Hazards Planning Research Center

Addressing Hazards in Comprehensive Plans

The comprehensive plan is the one document in which a community makes clear its overall priorities and goals for the future. It is entirely natural to focus on the positive in such a document, but it is also clear that the community needs to face its challenges squarely to make its goals realistic. It is not realistic to ignore natural hazards and the need to mitigate their potential impact. Natural disasters can torpedo otherwise viable community goals faster than almost any other event.

It has been common, however, for communities to assign the preparation of hazard mitigation plans to emergency managers with at best a modicum of involvement by planners. That needs to change. Embedding hazard mitigation goals in the comprehensive plan with clearly established responsibilities for implementation is the most effective way to guarantee both visibility for those goals and the results desired. In addition, the hazards or safety element should reference other elements of the comprehensive plan that are clearly implicated in specific mitigation goals, and those should link back to the hazards element. Housing, transportation, economic development, and environment are all elements of the plan with potential linkages to hazard mitigation goals.

The Hazards Planning Research Center has addressed these questions through its work on PAS Report No. 560, Integrating Hazard Mitigation into Local Planning. Funded by FEMA, this project examined best practices in how communities integrate hazard mitigation into all aspects of the planning process, most especially including the comprehensive plan. Six case studies in the report include consideration of this issue in each case.