Rationale for Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery: Next Generation

For more than a decade, PAS Report No. 483/484, Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction, has served as the major resource to which planners and emergency managers turn for basic principles and policies governing the practice of planning for long-term community recovery after disasters. Thousands of copies have circulated nationwide and around the world. There is only one problem, which was inevitable: The information is rapidly becoming outdated. Between 2008 and 2010, APA conducted a variety of conversations with federal officials about the need for completely overhauling this publication to reflect new lessons and circumstances. FEMA agreed to fund such a project, which launched in October 2010, and was completed in 2014.

What are the needs that drove this new project idea forward? APA laid out nine clear and specific reasons for the project in a needs assessment it shared with federal officials in FEMA and other agencies:

  1. Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. The document needs to discuss how this statute and FEMA's implementing regulations have affected planning practice with regard to the use of local and state hazard mitigation plans in the long-term recovery planning process.
  2. ESF-14. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security have adopted a new National Response Framework to replace the Federal Response Plan that was operative when the original report was produced. The new Framework includes three new emergency support functions that the PAS Report never mentioned because they did not exist then. One of those is clearly central to the relevance of the entire document: Emergency Support Function 14 provides long-term recovery planning as part of the Disaster Field Office's response to presidential declared disasters.
  3. FEMA within Homeland Security. The report describes the functions of FEMA at a time when it was an independent agency, not a part of the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's new organizational structure within that department requires considerable revision of those descriptions within the report in order to lead the reader to accurate assumptions about how federal disaster relief is organized today. Even if FEMA is restored to its previous status as an independent federal agency, it will be a much-changed agency in many respects from the one that sponsored the 1998 report.
  4. Lessons of Hurricane Katrina. Much of what is described above, especially ESF-14, was road-tested the hard way along the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and more recently, Hurricane Ike. It is vital that the lessons being learned now, in terms of what works, what does not, and how that might affect future policy, be incorporated into a more timely PAS Report. The most critical issue posed by Hurricane Katrina is whether current policy and planning are adequate to confront recovery needs following a catastrophic rather than more typical major disaster.
  5. Map Modernization and RiskMap. In this decade, FEMA and its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have undertaken expensive efforts to update and digitize the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) that have guided both local participation in the NFIP and the setting of flood insurance premiums. Map Modernization was the first initiative in this direction, and RiskMap is the next stage, applying an all-hazards approach to assist local planning. Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction need to incorporate an awareness of the use of these new tools.
  6. Florida Requirements. Although Florida had a requirement in its planning legislation a decade ago for the inclusion of a post-storm redevelopment plan in the hazards element of comprehensive plans in coastal counties, it has only in the last two years begun seriously to implement and enforce this provision. As a result, Florida is currently undertaking a very important public policy experiment with regard to natural hazards, which could provide significant baseline information on best practices and formulas for success.
  7. Climate change. The existing report contains almost no discussion of climate change because the literature and documentation of the impacts of climate change on planning for post-disaster recovery were virtually nonexistent in the 1990s. Today we know that, while great uncertainty remains, we can expect major changes potentially to affect the viability of new development that must last up to a half-century and beyond in circumstances that may over time be significantly altered from those prevailing today. We need to address the additional margin of safety that must be built into reconstruction after disasters in order to ensure the longer-term viability of new development.
  8. Emergence of Web-based technology. In addition to a printed copy that can be readily available in the field, the report should be accessible and downloadable on the Web. This would make it possible to amend the report continuously as required by changes in legislation, regulations, and best practices.
  9. National Disaster Recovery Framework. It is clear the very framework of the nation's approach to disaster recovery is changing. HUD and DHS took on significant responsibilities in crafting the draft framework early in 2010, and White House review lies ahead. Whatever the outcome, it is critical that communities have access to effective planning guidance to accompany any new initiatives tied to this framework as it takes shape. We need to be prepared to explain and examine the fundamental assumptions behind that new framework and how they affect practical decision making at the local and regional level.