Zoning and Disaster Recovery

Zoning Practice — July 2021

By Donovan Finn, PhD



This issue of Zoning Practice is available free to all thanks to financial support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

What if substantial portions of your community were suddenly and severely damaged by a catastrophic flood, earthquake, industrial accident, or other disaster? What role would the local planning agency play in the rebuilding and recovery process? What challenges would you face as you attempted to help residents and business owners rebuild their lives and livelihoods? How effective would your efforts be?

An effective recovery process means more than merely rebuilding what existed before. Disasters also provide important opportunities for proactive planning in which the community emerges more resilient to subsequent hazard events. This opportunity is fleeting, and local policies and ordinances like the zoning code can either facilitate or impede effective and resilient recovery.

This issue of Zoning Practice summarizes some of the zoning-related challenges planners face in post-disaster situations, discusses how communities might think about preparing now for future disasters, and highlights what other communities have achieved by modifying zoning procedures and standards.


Page Count
Date Published
July 1, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Donovan Finn, PhD
Donovan Finn is assistant professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, where he also directs the undergraduate program in Environmental Design, Policy and Planning. Dr. Finn’s research focuses on the intersecting issues of disaster recovery, urban resilience, environmental justice, participatory planning, and the use of complex climate data for local planning, with active work on heat vulnerability and scenario planning for flooding and resiliency. He is a faculty affiliate with the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay in New York City, and since 2019 he has been an Early Career Faculty Innovator fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO. Since living through the storm in 2012, Dr. Finn has focused on the New York region’s longterm recovery from Superstorm Sandy, a story which continues to unfold. Dr. Finn has a PhD in regional planning and an MUP, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.