Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness

Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness (Week 4 – Essay 1)

Rationale for Hazard Mitigation Planning
A hazard mitigation plan can be an effective vehicle for a state or local government to establish its commitment to mitigation goals, objectives, policies, and programs. By articulating what the community hopes to achieve, the plan can serve to establish an important connection between the public interest and mitigation measures to be employed. For this reason, it is important that each state or locality not rely on “boilerplate” language or slavishly follow model plans. Instead, each community should strive to create its own unique hazard mitigation plan that will address the issues and concerns particular to that community’s level of vulnerability to hazard risks.
A state or local hazard mitigation plan also provides a medium to inform the community about natural hazards and about mitigation, increasing public awareness of the risks present in the community, as well as the resources available to reduce those risks. Achieving widespread public awareness of hazards will enable citizens to make informed decisions on where to live, purchase property or locate a business, and how to protect themselves and their property from the impact of natural hazards. In the public sector, decision-makers who are well-informed and well-guided by a mitigation plan can carry out their official daily activities in a manner that will encompass mitigation concepts. The plan then guides the implementation of goals, objectives, policies, and programs as it educates the community.
While there are many valid approaches to the planning process, this session emphasizes the planning procedures that emanate from the Federal Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Section 409 of the Stafford Act is the major catalyst at the national level for involvement of state and local governments in the hazard mitigation planning process. Governments are required to evaluate and plan for natural hazards as a condition of receiving federal disaster assistance. Because of this major role that Section 409 plays in the procurement of federal aid, this session uses the Section 409 planning requirements as a framework of analysis.
However, while the Stafford Act is a major impetus for hazard mitigation planning, it is not the only governmental program which either mandates or provides incentives for governments to engage in hazard mitigation planning. In North Carolina, for instance, the NC Coastal Area Management Act requires that local governments in the twenty counties that comprise the coastal zone prepare a land use plan that contains an element addressing hazard mitigation and preparedness issues in that community. The National Community Rating System (CRS) encourages hazard mitigation planning activities by offering insurance cost savings to local residents whose communities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Other government programs are easier to access or are more effectively utilized when governments have prepared a hazard mitigation plan. Some of these programs include the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMAP), the Public Assistance Program, the Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Program, the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Hurricane Program, and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. By following the general guidelines in this session, communities should be able to prepare a plan which will satisfy most of the programs that either mandate or encourage hazard mitigation planning.
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409 Planning under the Stafford Act
[Note: This section is largely adapted from Kaiser, E. J. and R. M. Goebel (1999). It is presented here for course preparation purposes only, and the authors retain all rights]
The Stafford Act provides general guidance for the contents of state hazard mitigation plans. Only a few basic elements are required and only a skeletal structure is suggested. The plans must contain, at a minimum, the following elements:
• Goals and Objectives—hazard mitigation goals and objectives and proposed strategies, programs and actions to reduce or avoid long-term vulnerability to hazards;
• Hazard Assessment—an evaluation of the natural hazards in the designated areas;
• Capability Assessment—a description and analysis of the state and local hazard management policies, programs, and capabilities to mitigate the hazards in the area;
• Implementation, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Update—a method of implementing, monitoring, evaluating, and updating the mitigation plan. Such evaluation is to occur at least on an annual basis to ensure that implementation occurs as planned, and to ensure that the plan remains current. See 44 C.F.R. Sec. 206.405(a).
The hazard and capability assessment components are often referred to together as the “fact” or “intelligence” basis of the plan.
The exact form and content of these general elements is left open. Flexibility is meant to be an integral part of the 409 plan preparation process: “The specific content and format of a hazard mitigation plan or update shall be determined through guidance and technical assistance that the Regional Director provides to the State during the Section 409 planning process.” See 44 C.F.R. Sec. 206.405(c).
One additional element, assumed by but not explicitly required by the Stafford Act, is the:
• Proposed Mitigation Measures component (also referred to as “Actions” or “Recommendations”)—a broad range of possible mitigation measures (e.g., infrastructure projects, land use and zoning changes, etc.) that a community may wish to undertake depending on the particular hazard threats.
A survey of FEMA regional offices found that, indeed, the FEMA regional offices are providing some assistance to the states for 409 planning, including:
• Providing technical assistance and informal consultation;
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• Providing model plans and samples of plans;
• Recommending the FEMA publication “Post-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Planning Guidance for State and Local Governments” (henceforth “DAP-12,” referring to its document number) for assistance (participants read a portion of this document for the previous session);
• Holding workshops; and
• Issuing draft guidelines.
Unfortunately, many SHMOs and local planners are unfamiliar with DAP-12, or else they have heard of it but find it too general and vague to be of much help in their particular situations. This session is intended to fill that gap by providing practical advice and suggestions as to how to implement the section 409 planning requirements of the Stafford Act in the most effective way possible.
In the classes that follow we will consider each of the four major sections of hazard mitigation plans. For each section we will discuss:
1. Suggested Issues—these are the important issues that should be addressed in order to treat the section in a comprehensive fashion. For instance, suggested issues in the natural hazards assessment section deal with specific types of vulnerability assessment (e.g., estimates of the total population and total amount of property exposed to the particular hazard threat). Such estimates allow the reader to more accurately gauge the seriousness of the hazard risk. These issues put “meat on the bones” of the skeletal structure described in the FEMA regulations and DAP-12.
2. Drafting Suggestions—these are the practical challenges in drafting each section of the 409 plan.
3. Model Section—a brief description of an especially strong section drawn from an actual hazard mitigation plan. Excerpts from these model sections are presented in Appendices 9-B through 9-F located at the end of Session 9.
In addition, we will consider stylistic concerns that plan authors should keep in mind when writing all the sections.
Elements of the Hazard Mitigation Plan
Introductory Section of the Plan
Hazard mitigation plans should be organized and written in such a way as to facilitate easy access to the content of the plan. The introductory section should include basic information allowing the reader to identify the plan (title, author, date of preparation, state, etc.), determine its scope 9-3
(hazards addressed, components included, etc.), identify the participants involved in preparing the plan, determine whether the plan was formally approved or adopted, and other background information.
Suggested Content for the Introductory Section:
Identification
• Title of plan (including any report number).
• Date of plan (including dates of revisions or addenda).
• Author/preparer (agency and/or person).
• Contact person (including name, title, agency, telephone, FAX number, and address).
• Specify whether the plan is specifically a state 409 plan in response to the Stafford Act or some other type of document (i.e., is it a plan actually prepared under another process or under other law, and just being used as the state’s 409 plans?). If the plan is not explicitly prepared as a 409 plan in response to the Stafford Act, include a brief explanation.
Scope of Plan
• Hazards Covered. Hazard mitigation plans can cover any of the natural, technological, and human hazards introduced in earlier sessions. Currently, plans tend to address only a few of the major natural hazards which an area is at risk from (e.g., earthquake, flood, hurricane). The hazards assessment portion of plans should identify the full gamut of hazards which threaten the community. The introduction should also specify which hazards are emphasized in the plan.
• Type of Coverage. Specify whether the plan addresses a single hazard only, or if it addresses multiple hazards more or less independently, or if it addresses multiple hazards more or less in a comprehensive, coordinated approach. Also specify geographic coverage of the plan. A comprehensive, multi-hazard plan covering an entire community or state should be the ultimate goal. However, producing such a plan requires a long-term intensive effort that many states and localities may choose to stretch out over time. Massachusetts, for example, has only recently incorporated earthquake materials into a multi-hazard plan that has been in place for several years.
Updating Information
• If the plan includes an update or annex in response to a specific disaster, then clearly indicate the name, FEMA identification numbers or disasters responded to, and date of disaster declaration for the update/annex on a revised table of contents placed at the start of the basic plan.
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• Include any evidence (e.g., a letter from the SHMO, local planner, or town council) showing whether an evaluation and updating has occurred. Note that the implementing regulations to the Stafford Act require states to submit annual progress reports to FEMA on the implementation status of the 409 plan. 44 C.F.R. Sec. 206.406(I).
Participation in Development and Implementation of the Plan
• Specify which local general purpose governments (e.g., cities and towns, counties) participated in developing the plan. In what ways were they involved?
• Specify which local special purpose governments (e.g., level district, school districts) participated in developing the plan. Specify the types of organizations. In what ways were they involved?
• Identify private sector involvement in the development of the plan. specify the type of organizations (e.g., insurance associations, trade associations, professional associations).
• Specify the state agencies involved in development of the plan (e.g., coastal planning/management, natural resources/environment, transportation, emergency management, housing/community development, education, health, etc.).
• Show evidence of formal approvals and/or adoptions of the plan by the FEMA Regional Office, the Governor, and other state or local officials/agencies (specify name of agency and official).
Definition of Mitigation
• A definition of mitigation should be included near the beginning of the plan. While plan authors should feel free to customize the definition somewhat to the unique circumstances of their geographic area, the definition nevertheless should generally track the definition provided in the Stafford Act: “Hazard mitigation means any action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to human life and property from natural hazards” (44 C.F.R. 206.401).
Section 1: Goals and Objectives
A clear statement of goals and objectives forms the “value basis” of the plan. The goals explain the long-term reasons why the community chooses to undertake mitigation (e.g., “to ensure public safety”). The objectives, on the other hand, are more specific, measurable, and intermediate ends which are achievable and mark progress toward the goals (e.g., “reduce population in at-risk areas by fifty percent”). The goals and objectives should be articulated clearly at the start of the hazard mitigation planning process so that they may inform the selection of the proposed hazard mitigation policies, programs, and actions which make up the heart of the plan.
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Individual objectives will vary widely depending on a number of factors, such as the nature of the hazard threat, the level of community resources, and the time-frame for implementation of the plan. Here we will concentrate solely on suggested goals for planning, which are universally applicable across all states and hazard types.
Suggested Goals to Consider for Plans
• Protect the safety of the population (specify either the general population or specific, at-risk communities).
• Reduce private property loss.
• Reduce damage to, or vulnerability of, public property.
• Reduce damage to, or vulnerability of, “lifeline” facilities such as hospitals, bridges, power plants, etc.
• Minimize fiscal impact of disasters.
• Distribute hazards management cost equitably.
• Reduce government liability.
• Improve emergency preparedness.
• Improve response to disasters.
• Incorporate mitigation into disaster recovery programs.
• Coordinate with other hazard mitigation efforts of state and local governments.
• Reduce hazards impacts using methods that also achieve preservation of natural areas, water quality, open space.
• Minimize the disruption of the economy and social networks.
• Implement cost-effectiveness mitigation strategies and programs.
• Establish acceptable level of risk.
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Drafting Suggestions
Despite the importance of the goals section, formal statements of goals and objectives are often weakly written, or they are not included in hazard mitigation plans at all.
Statements of goals and objectives should:
• Be presented as part of an explicit “Goals and Objectives” section of the plan (and not tucked into an introductory section);
• Be detailed, in terms of the context or rationale for the goals;
• Be prioritized, in order of the relative importance of the goals and objectives to the community;
• Address the kinds of risks and the level of risk (“acceptable risk”) that are or are not acceptable to the community;
• Be clearly identified (with a table of contents and/or index) for easy reference.
Goals versus Objectives:
• Goals should not merely refer to the purposes of the plan as a document (e.g., to complete the components required by the Stafford Act). All goals, instead, should refer to the ultimate ends of hazard mitigation that the community is trying to achieve. Hazard mitigation goals should be broad in scope and far-reaching in application, and they should be structured as positive statements that are attainable rather than negative observations about the community. Goals should be cross-cutting in areas of public interest in addition to hazard mitigation. For instance, hazard mitigation plan goals can support such principles as improving water quality, sustaining farmland, preserving natural areas, and creating open space.
• Objectives should be phrased as “achievement milestones,” rather than as “action milestones” (i.e., they should be oriented toward achievement of a particular milestone along the way toward achievement of a long-term goal, rather than merely referring to the completion of some activity, such as revising the plan or determining vulnerability by a specific date). Whereas goals are general statements that may not be fully realized, objectives should be capable of being accomplished. Typically, several objectives are identified for each goal. Objectives can and should be structured so that they serve multiple community interests. The objective of prohibiting development in high hazard areas, for instance, accomplishes the goal of restricting future vulnerability as well as preserving natural areas.
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Finally, note that the community or state’s interests and resources will evolve over time. The implementation and monitoring strategy (discussed below) should include regular reviews and updates of the goals and objectives section.
Model Goals Section
Many plans fail to discuss goals and objectives for hazard mitigation in any fashion, and many plans that do mention them do so in an offhand manner, frequently tucking them away into a single paragraph in the introductory section. A few plans are noteworthy in their treatment of the subject, however. The goals and objectives section in Oregon’s 409 plan, for example, may be considered a model. Oregon’s plan contains four goals clearly and simply stated, along with objectives that are intended to serve as “measuring sticks” by which the success of proposed projects may be evaluated. The goals are ranked by priority: first is protection of life, followed by protection of emergency response capability, protection of developed property, and protection of natural resources and the environment. Goals are acknowledged as the “first stage in Oregon’s overall mitigation planning process,” and they are to be used as criteria for evaluating 404 projects. The section is brief, but it is effective.
Section 2: Hazard Assessment
The Assessment of Hazards should evaluate the potential hazards in the designated planning area, which may be either the entire legal jurisdiction or selected hazard-prone areas (e.g., the coastline). The Stafford Act regulations require only that this part of a state 409 plan be “an evaluation of the natural hazards in the designated area” (C.F.R. 206.405-a(1)). FEMA’s “DAP-12” manual (from the readings) suggests that this section should identify hazards, their location, and the affected community’s vulnerability in terms of probability and magnitude.
An ideal hazard assessment section in a plan should focus on three principal areas:
• A hazard assessment, identifying the hazard threat facing the state;
• A vulnerability assessment, identifying the people and property most likely to be affected by hazards; and
• A risk assessment, which determines the most severe threats based on their likely degree of harm.
In addition, the plan should evaluate the quality of the hazard data that currently exists. The section should be explicitly linked to both the goals and proposed policies sections of the plan. Along with the capability analysis (discussed next), the hazard assessment forms part of the “fact basis” of the plan. Following are suggested issues for an effective hazards assessment section.
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Suggested Issues to Consider in the Hazards Assessment
Hazard Assessment
• Delineate the location and boundaries of hazardous areas.
• Delineate the magnitude of potential hazards.
• Delineate the likelihood of occurrence of hazardous events.
• Describe and analyze the separate characteristics of potential hazards. (e.g., a plan discussing a hurricane threat should describe and analyze the potential effects of intense winds, high water, and wave action).
• Assess the danger from secondary hazards (e.g., dam breaking).
• Assess the danger from hazardous facilities (e.g., nuclear plant, chemical plant) in hazard areas.
• Assess the danger form exposure to hazardous materials in wake of natural disaster.
Vulnerability Assessment
• Assess the number of people exposed to hazards or likely to be exposed in the future as areas develop, including special populations (e.g., elderly, hospitalized, handicapped).
• Assess the value of property exposed to hazards.
• Assess the number of critical facilities (e.g., hospitals, bridges, sewage treatment plants, water treatment plants, schools, power plants, and police and fire stations), exposed to hazardous forces.
• Assess shelter demand (number of people requiring shelter) and capacity (number of people that can be sheltered).
• Assess evacuation needs and capabilities.
• Assess environmental impacts of a disaster.
Risk Assessment
• Include a systematic risk assessment, in which the probabilities of hazardous events are combined with the likely degree of harm from those events, in order to determine which hazard threats are most worthy of the state’s attention. Specifically, there should be considered: loss potential, potential impact of no action, and liability potential.
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Data Assessment
• Discuss the reliability, validity, spatial specificity, and relevance of the existing hazard data.
Drafting Suggestions
A recent study of the hazard assessment sections of 44 state 409 hazard mitigation plans found the following:
The general observations recorded during our survey illustrate the typical problems associated with drafting the hazard assessment section. The reviewers commented that the plans were: “very general”; “perfunctory, superficial, and cursory, with little technical information”; “covers historical events, but is not anticipatory”; “descriptive, not analytic”; and “covers physical descriptions of the hazard, but not an assessment of vulnerability or of risk.”
Generally, hazard assessment was done more often—and better—than vulnerability assessment, which in turn was done more often and more thoughtfully than risk assessment. This is not surprising, considering that hazard assessment is a comparatively simple task, and in many of the plans consisted of little more than re-presenting general meteorological, geographical, and historical data from other reports. The vulnerability assessments, on the other hand, require the plan authors to synthesize and analyze that hazard data, along with information about demographic and building data which is more difficult to obtain in a form that can be synthesized with hazard data. Risk assessment is even more complex because it requires combining probabilities of hazardous events with their likely degree of harm.
[Kaiser and Goebel, 1999]
Ideally, the hazards assessment section should:
• Contain all three elements—hazard assessment, vulnerability assessment, and risk assessment—and also should assess the quality of existing hazard data.
• Have the appearance of a professional research report (i.e., sources identified, methods explained, etc.).
• Be illustrated with maps and tables and any other graphic aids that might make the information more accessible to users.
• Gear the descriptions of hazard threats toward anticipating future conditions, rather than merely addressing existing situations and past hazard events.
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Model Hazards Assessment Section
Kentucky’s 409 plan contains a strong hazards assessment. The plan focuses on four major types of hazards—flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, and drought—after explaining why these hazards were selected for detailed analyses. The plan not only offers detailed descriptions of past significant hazard events, but also applies statistics from those earlier disasters in a forward-looking analysis. For each major hazard type, the plan examines history, vulnerability, and current and future exposure. Detailed estimates are provided of the numbers and types of population at risk. Many useful graphic and tabular aids—such as maps of disaster-prone areas—supplement the text.
Section 3: Capabilities Assessment
Analysis of State and Local Hazard Management Policies, Programs, and Capabilities
Along with the hazards assessment, the Analysis of State and Local Hazard Management Policies, Programs, and Capabilities (or, “capability analysis”) forms part of the “fact basis” of the plan. FEMA’s “DAP-12” manual notes that, “Conducting a mitigation capability assessment should be the result of realization of unacceptable vulnerability to the identified hazards.” The capability analysis should outline the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s institutional mechanisms for dealing with hazard mitigation.
Generally, the capability assessment should review existing mitigation policies and programs, including problems caused by current policies; opportunities for and obstacles to new mitigation initiatives; the level of present effort devoted to mitigation; and intergovernmental coordination of programs. Also, DAP-12 suggests that this section should examine programs and policies that increase vulnerability to hazards as well as those that reduce vulnerability, and should assess governmental capabilities to address hazard mitigation. Below are suggested issues for an effective capability analysis section.
Suggested Issues to Consider in the Capability Analysis
Hazard Mitigation Programs, Policies, Laws, and Actions in Place at Different Governmental Levels
• Describe and assess impacts of existing programs at the federal level. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures. For example, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and federal environmental protection regulations should be considered, as should legal impediments (e.g., “taking” issue).
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• Describe and assess impacts of existing programs at the state and regional levels. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures and legal impediments/constraints.
• Describe and assess impacts of existing programs at the local level. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures. For example, local efforts to control land use in hazard-prone areas should be discussed, as should legal impediments.
Hazard Mitigation Programs, Policies, Laws, and Actions Under Consideration at Different Governmental Levels
• Describe and assess impacts of programs under consideration at the federal level. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures. For example, new FEMA mitigation initiatives, if known, should be considered.
• Describe and assess impacts of programs under consideration at the state and regional levels. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures. Assess likelihood of passage, opposition, pros/cons. For example, state legislation may have been introduced to appropriate funds to acquire land in the 100-year floodplain in selected communities; or, state transportation planning might be considered for its impacts on evacuation routes.
• Describe and assess impacts of programs under consideration at the local level. Consider cost, effort involved, and effects on the implementation of mitigation measures.
Scope and Focus of Policy and Capability Reviews
• Review state’s emergency preparedness polices and capabilities.
• Review state’s emergency response polices and capabilities.
• Review state’s emergency recovery policies and capabilities.
• Review state’s mitigation policies and capabilities. This should receive special emphasis throughout the plan.
• Review emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation policies and capabilities at the local level.
• Identify problem development policies that promote private development in hazard areas or foster development without mitigation.
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• Identify problem policies that place public investments at risk in hazard areas.
• Assess special opportunities for increasing mitigation capability.
• Assess obstacles and/or problems to implementation of mitigation measures.
• Assess state’s current financial and personnel commitments for hazard mitigation.
• Identify state efforts toward building institutional commitment for hazard mitigation.
• Identify state efforts toward building institutional capacity for hazard mitigation. For example, has new staff been allocated to the SHMO’s office? Have procedures for communication between the SHMO’s office and other state offices been improved?
Assessment of Coordination between Different Governmental Levels
• Assess federal-state coordination.
• Assess intra-state agency coordination.
• Assess state-local coordination.
• Assess coordination among local governments.
• Assess coordination between government and the private sector.
Drafting Suggestions
A recent study of the hazard assessment sections of 44 state 409 hazard mitigation plans found the following:
Our survey found that most plans are good at describing existing policies and programs, but poor at actually evaluating and critiquing those programs, or reviewing new programs under consideration. According to reviews from our survey, most plans merely list existing agencies and programs, but lack analysis, assessment or critique, and do not really address “capability.” The analyses cover federal and state policy and programs to the exclusion of local programs. In many plans, this section was brief, cursory, superficial, or missing altogether, or else it was scattered into other sections. Very few of the reviewed plans paid attention to interrelationships and coordination in mitigation efforts between different levels of government.
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An ideal capability analysis section should:
• Identify and assess the problems with, and effectiveness of, both existing and proposed programs.
• Address obstacles to implementation of new programs that might decrease vulnerability.
• Include specific information about current policies and programs, with some quantitative information about expenditures or other aspects of the program.
• Provide a summary chart identifying key legislation, programs, and agencies.
• Assess governmental capabilities at multiple levels (including relevant federal programs, though this is not required by FEMA).
• Assess existing and potential coordination efforts between those levels and with the private sector.
• Overall, allow a state to evaluate, and update if necessary, its administrative system for dealing with natural hazards.
[Kaiser and Goebel, 1999]
Model Capability Analysis Section
While none of the capability analyses reviewed for the study scored especially high marks, some were better than others. Connecticut’s 409 plan contained one of the better analyses. It contains well-written descriptions of effective and innovative programs in the state; the descriptions of flood warning systems and Flood Audit Program are especially noteworthy. Reviewers felt that the analysis contained an exceptionally detailed level of mitigation—even going so far as to note the flood height at which water will enter individual houses (identified by owner’s name). Another strong aspect of the analysis was the candid discussion of weaknesses in the state’s mitigation planning and implementation system.
Section 4: Proposed Mitigation Measures
The most important element of the plan is the section detailing the state’s proposed strategies, programs, and actions to reduce the long-term vulnerability to natural hazards. The proposed measures should be explicitly linked to the plan’s goals and objectives, and it should be tailored to meet the hazard threats identified in the assessment of natural hazards and the institutional strengths and weaknesses identified in the capability analysis.
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There are ten categories of suggested mitigation measures, ranging from general initiatives like public awareness campaigns, to more focused actions, such as beach nourishment. Many of the proposed strategies, programs, and actions have as their goal the improvement of the state’s overall system for mitigating hazards, rather than attempting to mitigate the hazards themselves.
Suggested Mitigation Measures
Suggested Mitigation Measures (Part 1)
Promoting Awareness and Knowledge of Hazard Mitigation
Controlling New Development
Suggested Mitigation Measures (Part 2)
Promote Retrofitting of Existing Development
Acquisition
Provide Financial Assistance
Control Hazards
Protect Public Facilities and Infrastructure
Suggested Mitigation Measures (Part 3)
Recovery Measures
Emergency Preparedness and Response
Promote Intergovernmental Coordination
Drafting Suggestions
The Kaiser and Goebel study found that, in general, the proposed mitigation measures in plans tend to be of “mediocre quality.” The authors found that weak mitigation sections were characterized by:
• A lack of specifics about how measures would be implemented;
• The use of weak imperative language (e.g., “should do”), indicating little commitment to following through on proposals;
• Lists of programs and actions already underway;
• Lists of projects already approved from the last disaster event;
• Lists of possible options for strategies, programs and actions; and
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• Simple descriptions of state agencies and their responsibilities.
Kaiser and Goebel recommend a variety of ways to improve the content and usefulness of the proposed mitigation measures section of the plan.
The ideal proposed mitigation measures section should:
• Be clearly organized, with the proposals grouped into coherent strategies.
• State priorities for action, reflecting the relative importance and feasibility of each initiative.
• Explicitly link the strategies and actions into the plan’s goals and objectives, perhaps even reproducing the relevant goals alongside each initiative.
• Provide a summary table showing the relationship of the proposed actions to each other and to the goals and objectives.
• Present the state or community’s list of criteria for the funding of Section 404 projects.
• Indicate the lead agencies charged with implementation, sources of funding, a timetable for implementation, and general comments for each proposed initiative.
• Discuss the general policy principles behind each proposal.
• Seek to include useful supplemental information, such as model legislation or legal analysis, or detailed budget analysis.
The proposals should:
• Be innovative and clearly linked to the specific hazard threat, rather than merely listing familiar and easy measures.
• Be forward-looking, rather than only addressing the last disaster.
• Be directed toward the appropriate array of specific hazard characteristics, rather than at general hazard types. For example, a hurricane plan should attempt to mitigate the possible effects of wind, storm surge, waves, flood level, and erosion.
• Incorporate regionally coordinated or state-wide strategies, rather than addressing single hazardous areas, or areas of the last disaster.
• Be oriented toward helping government agencies integrate hazard mitigation into their normal daily functions, rather than requiring new, cumbersome procedures.
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If possible, the section should discuss and evaluate the community or state’s new or experimental mitigation measures, such as pilot programs.
For example, part of Massachusetts’ ongoing state-level response to the coastal storms of the early 1990s has been the creation of a workbook for local communities, which will allow the preparation of local hazard mitigation plans without the assistance of outside consultants. State officials hope this workbook and its accompanying model plan will encourage cooperation within communities undertaking mitigation, and encourage local officials to think through priorities identified through the development of the local hazard mitigation plan. The workbook also will provide an example of how local governments can comply with multiple sets of regulatory requirements in one document. The workbook is an example of a mitigation proposal from a past plan that is being implemented. Its progress will be charted in current and future plans.
[Kaiser and Goebel, 1999]
Model Proposed Mitigation Measures Section
The Massachusetts 409 plan’s section outlining proposed mitigation actions, programs, and policies may be considered a model section. The strength of the section—as well as of the entire plan—is the outstanding, clear organization and the careful attention paid to the interrelationships between each element of the plan. The recommendations are linked to, and grouped by, the goals and objectives, which are introduced in an earlier section. There are two methods of presentation for proposed actions: a two-page summary chart, and a detailed table which provides more complete information on each program, including lead agencies, sources of funding, estimated dates of completion, and general comments. An additional, especially helpful feature, is a status report on recommendations proposed in past plans. Additional recommendations are provided in the post-disaster annex attached to the main plan. A list of criteria for the funding of 404 projects is included. Also mentioned are proposals for pilot programs, such as sacrificial dune construction. One weakness of the Massachusetts proposed actions section is the lack of specific cost figures. Other strong plans, such as the California 409 plan for earthquakes, did include such figures.
Section 5: Proposed Approach to Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation
This section of the plan describes the policies and procedures for implementing the plan, updating the plan, and monitoring and evaluating both the implementation of plan recommendations and their effect on vulnerability to hazards. According to DAP-12, “implementation” describes how the proposed policies, programs, and activities, including monitoring and evaluation, will be initiated, modified, or continued. “Monitoring and evaluation” describe how the state or community will identify and evaluate changes in hazardous conditions, implementation of provisions of the plan, and effectiveness of the plan.
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Drafting Suggestions
The Kaiser and Goebel study found that the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation sections were the weakest parts of state 409 hazard mitigation plans. Many plans failed to include this section at all, and those that did tended to focus on the roles and responsibilities of the SHMO.
Model Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Section
California has two active 409 plans, one dealing with flooding and the other addressing earthquakes. The monitoring and evaluation section of the state’s earthquake plan has been identified as a model element. The section is exceptionally well-organized and is integrally tied to the goals and proposed actions sections. Individual implementing initiatives are presented in two ways, for easy referencing—by year and by proposed legislation. The section is supplemented with many useful, easy-to-read tables. Lead agencies are specified for individual initiatives, and cost estimates are provided for select initiatives. There are annual action plans for implementation. The plan itself is completely updated every five years, and one-year updates are issued for each intervening year. While the section is not ideal, the omissions are comparatively minor. For instance, no provision is made for citizen participation in the monitoring and evaluation process, or for the use of alternative dispute resolution to resolve conflicts.
Other General Considerations
Other content and style topics that Kaiser and Goebel believe should be considered throughout preparation of the entire plan include the following.
Integration with other state and local issues
The plan should not be considered an isolated document, relevant only in emergency management situations. Rather, it should be folded into the state’s larger land-use and environmental planning framework. The plan should consider proposed solutions from other planning contexts that might also address hazards problems, and it should consider the extent to which the 409 mitigation proposals will address state issues beyond hazard mitigation. For example, policies that provide wetland protection also enhance flood mitigation. Ideally, integration with other state and local issues should be made explicit in either the goals and objectives section, or else in the proposed mitigation actions section.
Readability/legibility
The plan should be well-written, clear, and easily understood by the lay public. It should be well-illustrated with maps, photographs, tables, charts, and any other visual aids which might be useful.
Comprehensives
To the greatest extent possible, the plan should be comprehensive in its coverage, taking a broad approach to identifying hazards and proposing mitigation programs and actions. True, there are some very good plans that respond only to single 9-18
hazards, or specific disasters, or propose simple, separate actions. Occasionally, a narrow focus may be appropriate under a state’s particular circumstances. But, again, a big-picture approach provides the greatest insight into how the state’s hazard mitigation planning policies and procedures interact with each other and with other state policies and programs.
Participation
Each section of the plan should reflect participation by all stakeholders in the hazard mitigation planning process. High public participation should be an explicit goal, and public awareness of mitigation should be a recommended program. The implementation procedures should detail notification and hearings procedures whereby all state citizens have the opportunity for active participation (e.g., at public hearings) or written comment in the planning process. The plan should provide evidence of consideration of input from participants.
Overall internal consistency
The plan should be internally consistent – that is, all sections should complement each other and contain no inherent contradictions. For example, the analyses of hazards and capability and the goals should relate to, and provide rationales for, the proposals made in the recommendations section. Where relevant, the same data sets should be used to inform different elements of the plan.
[Kaiser and Goebel, 1999]
An Ideal System of Planning for Hazards
Hazard mitigation plans—along with other Stafford Act programs such as Section 404 mitigation projects—should not constitute a state or community’s entire effort to mitigate the effects of hazards. The plan is but one part of a larger, comprehensive, multi-organizational effort that tackles the problem of vulnerability reduction from a variety of vantage points. Kaiser and Goebel suggest the following characteristics of “an ideal system of planning for natural hazards.” The system they outline encompasses aspects of federal, state, and local levels of governance, and can be broadened to include all types of natural, technological, and human hazards.
• The cornerstone of our ideal hazard mitigation planning system is the plan itself. Each state should prepare a comprehensive, pre-disaster, multiple hazard mitigation plan.
• The plan should present a set of long-term goals for vulnerability reduction and a set of specific, measurable, and intermediate objectives, which are achievable and mark progress toward the goals.
• The plan should contain an assessment of natural hazards which identifies the hazard threats facing the state, identifies the people and property most likely to be affected by hazards, and systematically determines the most severe threats based on their likely degree of harm.
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• The plan should review existing mitigation policies and programs, including problems caused by current policies; opportunities for and obstacles to new mitigation initiatives; the level of present effort devoted to mitigation; and the level of intergovernmental coordination of mitigation.
• There should be a set of proposed mitigation strategies, programs and actions to reduce the state’s long-term vulnerability to hazards.
• Such measures should be explicitly linked to the goals and objectives and carefully tailored to meet the hazard threats identified in the assessment of natural hazards and the institutional strengths and weaknesses identified in the analysis of state and local institutional capabilities.
• Finally, the plan should include a systematic procedure for implementing the measures, for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the measures, and for evaluating the success and/or failure of the measures in reducing vulnerability.
• The state hazard mitigation plan should be linked with pre- and post-disaster implementation programs, including an approved administrative plan for hazard mitigation grants.
• The plan should be updated annually based on new information and feedback from earlier plans.
• The plan should be subject to annual reviews by the state and the FEMA regional office (with approvals perhaps eventually triggering additional funding for mitigation activities from FEMA).
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• Also, the governor and the FEMA regional office each should formally adopt the plan. While one office, such as emergency management, may be in charge of formally drafting and updating the plan, there should be broad participation in the initial formulation and updating of the plan’s various elements.
• All affected state agencies should participate, as should local general and special purpose governments, representatives of private industry, and non-profit groups such as charitable relief organizations.
• The state should require mitigation plans to be prepared at the local level to complement the state plan. Responsibility for reducing vulnerability to hazards should be extended to all political subdivisions of the state, as well as private organizations and individuals.
• Within this basic framework, each state and local government should tailor its mitigation planning efforts specifically to its unique circumstances. A variety of policies, strategies, and courses of action should be considered, as no one set of recommendations is appropriate in all cases.
Below are examples of the types of questions officials should consider:
• Should the plan encourage avoidance of construction in hazardous areas entirely, or should it encourage increasing the resilience of new buildings and infrastructure in at-risk areas through the adoption of more stringent building standards? Should different policies be adopted for different parts of the planning area?
• Who should lead the effort to mitigate hazards in the state? The federal government, through 409 planning and 404 grants? The state, by perhaps adopting more ambitious programs with higher standards than those at the federal level? Or local communities, where the people live who are most directly affected by the hazards and who know first-hand which mitigation measures work and which don’t?
• Should the mitigation strategy emphasize controls over new development or the modification of existing buildings and infrastructure?
• How should the state coordinate hazard mitigation with other important policy areas, such as environmental protection and the provision of affordable housing? What agency or official is best qualified and equipped to oversee such coordination?
[End Kaiser & Goebel excerpts]
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Hazard Mitigation Tools and Techniques
In addition to the techniques highlighted by Kaiser and Goebel as part of their exposition on hazard mitigation planning, the following section provides a more detailed listing and description of tools and techniques used in mitigating hazards. The instructor may wish to spend some additional class time going through these techniques, or provide copies of this section to participants as handouts (the latter is recommended).
Hazard Mitigation Tools and Techniques
I. Structural Measures
A. Alteration of Environment
1. Sediment-trapping Structures
a. Groins: Groins are wall-like structures, built of timber, concrete, metal sheet piling or rock, placed perpendicular to the beach to capture material drifting along the shoreline. A groin’s effectiveness in trapping sediment is primarily a factor of the length and the spacing of the groin system. The appropriate length for effective groins depends on the dominate sediment size: shorter groins for larger grain sizes and longer groins for smaller grain sizes. The spacing between groins must balance being large enough to not undermine the updrift groin and being small enough to effectively act as a sediment trap.
Critique: Groins are mainly designed to provide a wider beach for recreational purposes and to reduce the frequency of beach nourishment. A wider beach may cause storm waves to break further seaward, but it is not an effective means of protecting shorefront buildings from coastal surge or high winds. By interrupting normal patterns of drift, groins starve “downstream” beaches of their diet of sand and may worsen a shoreline’s overall erosion problem. Downdrift landowners whose beaches are narrowing may pursue legal action against the builders of updrift groins.
b. Jetties: Jetties are wall-like structures built perpendicular to the coast to stabilize channels, inlets, and outlets. While the primary function of jetties is to protect navigation channels, jetties capture sediments by restricting the movement of materials transported by longshore currents. The critical factors for channel stabilization are the width of the channel and management of sediment. Width of the channel must balance being wide enough to reduce current velocity within the channel but narrow enough to restrict shoaling. Likewise, consideration of the sediment economy plays a vital role in the long-term viability of the channel, inlet, or outlet.
Critique: While the primary function of jetties is to protect navigation channels, they incidentally restrict the movement of sediment traveling parallel to the shore. They more completely interrupt this littoral drift than do groins. By stopping the natural cycle of movement, jetties can starve downdrift beaches. Long jetties may also create currents that transfer sand offshore, leading to net sand loss from the beach. While sand bypassing systems have been shown to mitigate the 9-22
offshore currents created by jetties, these systems do not work during storm events, when most sediment transfer occurs.
2. Sediment-moving Activities
a. Beach Nourishment: Beach nourishment is the artificial replacement and/or addition of sediment to beaches. The effectiveness of beach nourishment depends on the type of imported sand, natural slope of the beach, cross shore currents, and the frequency of storms. Consideration of natural erosion process is vital to the long-term cost-effectiveness of any beach nourishment program.
Critique: Large-scale nourishment programs can be very expensive, on the order of $1-$5 million per mile per application. The frequency of nourishment required to maintain a beach is difficult to predict. Most Atlantic-seaboard replenishment projects have a life-span of 2-10 years, depending on the frequency and intensity of storms. Replenished beaches tend to erode more quickly than natural beaches. Beaches in areas of high erosion may require near-constant replenishment to maintain historic shoreline levels.
While nourishment programs may offer wider beaches for recreational use, they may also unintentionally worsen the hazard risk. Renourishment sand is often taken from neighboring offshore banks because they offer an inexpensive source of matching sand. Shearing these banks is shortsighted, since they provide the beach with an offshore “speed bump.” The result is that larger waves reach the shore, causing more severe shoreline erosion. Nourishment programs may also spur shorefront development, putting even more structures at risk.
b. Dredging: Dredging involves modification of a channel by extracting sediment. Due to the need to dispose of extracted sediment and likelihood of future sedimentation, dredging is usually only undertaken to maintain the navigability of channels and waterways. Dredging is also used to provide sand for beach nourishment projects.
Critique: Dredging projects, like beach nourishment projects, require repetitive implementation since channels often refill with sediment. Disposing of dredge material may be expensive, especially if it is not suitable as beach fill. Disposal must be done in a way that does not endanger wetlands, shellfish beds, or fish spawning and nursery areas.
Dredging projects that harvest nearshore sand to be distributed on the beach may be counterproductive. By robbing offshore banks, the project may increase the intensity and erosive power of the waves that strike the renourished beach. Offshore banks of sand may also provide new sediment for these beaches through a natural process of accretion in which sand drifts onto the beach. Dredging removes sediment from this sand “economy.”
3. Shoreline Protection Works
a. Seawalls: Seawalls are vertical walls built on the shoreline and are designed to protect against direct storm wave attack. Seawalls must be constructed of durable, immovable materials 9-23
to withstand the extreme, dynamic power of storm waves. Due to the size needed to be effective, seawalls can also be curved or stepped to dissipate smaller waves and reflect larger storm waves.
Critique: Seawalls are costly to build. Seawalls reflect waves and intensify currents, steepening the profile of the beach and inducing erosion in front of the wall and on property located beyond the ends of the wall. Seawalls require continual maintenance and investment since loosened materials can become a hazard during storms. Temporary seawalls constructed from sandbags are unlikely to withstand the force of a storm and should only be used to repel normal erosion until the structure they are protecting can be relocated.
b. Revetments: Revetments are created by placing hardened materials atop the existing shore or riverbank slope to protect them from high tides, surges, and floods. Revetments disperse wave action and backwash and reduce shoreline erosion.
Critique: Revetments have some advantages over other structural techniques. They absorb waves rather than redirecting their energy to unprotected areas. Most revetments do not significantly interfere with the movement of sand along the shore. However, sand eroding from the shore before the construction of a revetment may have nourished a neighboring area. The installation of a revetment in this case may lead to accelerated erosion on those beaches.
Revetments typically cover sandy spaces previously used for recreational beach activities. Any sand areas left exposed seaward of steep revetments are prone to erosion. Revetments also require perpetual maintenance since loose material can become a hazard in storm events.
c. Bulkheads: Bulkheads are vertical walls on the shoreline, often constructed of wood or steel, and designed to retain loose fill and sediment behind it.
Critique: Since the purpose of bulkheads is to maintain the material behind it rather than provide protection from the sea or lake, bulkheads are usually not good protection from storms or other flooding events.
d. Breakwaters: Unlike seawalls, revetments, and bulkheads, breakwaters protect the shoreline by breaking down incoming waves to diffuse and refract the wave fronts. Breakwaters must be strong to be effective because they receive the full force of the wave energy. Consideration of materials is especially important for breakwaters due to the environmental forces acting on them.
Critique: Breakwaters interrupt the littoral movement of sand, resulting in more sand behind the structure, but less in downdrift areas. This process may simply transfer the erosion problem from one area to another. Breakwaters can also be a hazard to navigation and to swimmers.
e. Construction and Stabilization of Sand Dunes: Construction of new sand dunes requires an understanding of the biological and physical processes of the coastal zone. Most effective methods of creating new dunes involve disrupting the airflow to encourage sand deposition through the use of fences made of porous materials. It is important that the fences alter the air flow but do not halt it. Artificial dunes can also be built up by the planting of vegetation.
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It is important to note the distinction between vegetation used for dune construction and for dune stabilization, as they are usually of different species. Stabilization, as opposed to construction, of dunes is aimed at securing bare sand surfaces against deflation. Stabilization can be achieved through grading; rapid construction of new dunes through the use of earth-moving equipment; surface fixing by addition of chemicals; and planting of vegetation, focusing on grasses, shrubs, and trees.
Critique: Dune fields can be difficult to integrate with existing beachfront residences. To provide any storm protection, dune fields must be wide. A study of dune fields in South Carolina following Hurricane Hugo discovered that the minimum effective field was 100 feet wide, with dunes 10 feet high on average. Dune fields must be intact in order to protect the structures behind them. Dune gaps created for public access and for ocean views are vulnerable to storm overwash. Dunes migrate as part of their natural life cycle. Attempts to anchor dunes in place generally result in “seawall” dunes that narrow beaches and may cause erosion at their ends. Areas with low sand supplies will have trouble building dunes artificially.
4. Stormwater Management: Beyond maintenance and improvement of urban storm water systems, land treatment measures are effective means of counteracting the effects of urbanization (particularly the increase in impervious surfaces) on runoff. Land treatment measures include maintenance of trees, shrubbery, and vegetative cover; terracing; slope stabilization; grass waterways; contour plowing; and strip fanning. The use of perennial vegetation, such as grasses, shrubs, and trees provides cover for the soil; prevents erosion; slows the rate of runoff; increases infiltration; and reduces water pollution. Terracing involves a raised bank of earth having vertical or sloping sides and a flat top for controlling surface runoff. Strip cropping is growing crops in a systematic arrangement of strips or bands along a contour.
Critique: Land treatments may mitigate persistent stormwater problems, but they are unlikely to stop the major, storm-related flows that can trigger floods or serious mud- or landslides.
5. Drainage System Maintenance: Maintenance of channels and detention basins is necessarily an ongoing venture due to blockages caused by overgrowth, debris, sedimentation, and aging of systems. Replacement and/or improvement of culverts, main, and stormwater lines can involve a range of activities, including placing boulders at the edge of a cliff or along the backshore, to securing loose material in wire gabions and constructing pre-cast armor units. .
Critique: Drainage system maintenance can be a low priority for local officials since storms that test or exceed a system’s capacity are infrequent. Likewise, a lack of awareness among the general public can hinder the maintenance of drainage systems. Residents may fill in front-yard street runoff drainage ditches without knowing their purpose. Roadside drainage ditches can be a significant drowning hazard.
6. Flood Control Works
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a. Dams and Reservoirs: A dam is a structure built across a waterway to impound water. Dams, as well as acting as flood control devises, also serve for maintaining water depths for navigation, irrigation, water supply, hydropower, and others. Dams can serve as effective flood control measures by retaining water and releasing it at a controlled rate that does not overwhelm the capacity of the channel beyond.
Any dam or reservoir should include a spillway—a feature of a dam allowing excess water to pass without overtopping the dam. Usually, a spillway functions only in a large flood. Storage capacity of a dam or reservoir should be a primary consideration in design and construction. In addition, the normal sediment load on the waterway to be dammed plays an important role in the long-term viability of the dam.
Critique: As with other structural projects, dams and reservoirs are expensive, occupy a lot of land, require periodic maintenance, and only prevent damage from floods for the capacity they are designed to handle. Dams have many environmental costs and eliminate the natural and beneficial functions of the floodplain, including its ability to absorb stormwater. The potential for dam failure is an additional hazard. The long-term viability of any dam depends on the normal sediment load in the waterway to be dammed. Sedimentation can reduce the capacity of a reservoir or increase its volume, decreasing its flood storage capacity.
Ownership and control of dams may not reside solely with local governments, making it harder for local officials to direct their use and safety. Dam and reservoir projects are frequently managed with the help of state or federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Sometimes dams are operated cooperatively by several local jurisdictions. Others are owned and operated privately.
b. Dikes and Levees: Dikes and levees are often used synonymously. Dikes are usually an earthen or rock structure built partially across a river for the purpose of maintaining the depth and location of a navigation channel. Levees are earthen embankments used to protect low-lying lands from flooding. Levees built between the floodway and the sewer pipes, backup valves, etc., may be part of a general program of maintenance and improvement to reduce flooding hazards.
Critique: The Midwest Floods of 1993 clearly demonstrated that dikes and levees are subject to being overtopped or breached by floods that exceed their design. Despite this risk, their existence may encourage development in areas they appear to protect. These structures interfere with the environment’s ability to naturally mitigate floods, which it can do by absorbing high water into wetlands and low-lying areas. These walls prevent floodwaters from flowing into the natural floodplain. As a result, they frequently concentrate flooding in locations up- and downstream from their location. These flood control structures can also deprive natural habitats, such as wetlands, of the water they need to function.
c. Retaining Ponds: Retaining ponds or retention ponds are basins designed to catch surface runoff to prevent its flow directly into a stream or river.
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Critique: Retention ponds are frequently a relatively inexpensive option, provided that ample undeveloped land is available. Retaining ponds have the added advantage of not altering the character of the stream. Retaining ponds can also act as groundwater recharging sites and reduce water pollution through soil filtering.
d. Flood Channels: Channelization is a general term for various modifications of the stream channel that are usually intended to increase the velocity of the water flow, the volume of the water channel, or both. These modifications, in turn, increase the discharge of the stream and the rate at which surplus water is carried away. The channel can be widened or deepened, especially where soil erosion and subsequent deposition in the stream have partially filled in the channel.
Critique: Care must be taken in implementation so that channelization does not alter the stream dynamics too greatly elsewhere. Flood channels or storm sewers are installed to keep water from flooding streets during heavy rains, and, often, the storm water is channeled straight into a nearby stream. This can become a problem by increasing the probability of flooding downstream through greater water volume in streams than would occur naturally. This is particularly a problem when the flood channel is cement lined, thereby further increasing the rate at which water enters streams. An increased stream flow rate can also diminish the ability of the natural stream bed to support many forms of aquatic life. A further problem arises if the runoff that flows into streams has not been filtered; it can contaminate downstream water bodies.
e. Floodwall: A floodwall is a reinforced concrete wall that acts as a barrier against floodwaters. Floodwalls are usually built in lieu of levees where the space between land and the floodplain is limited.
7. Slope Stabilization: A number of potential methods are available to stabilize slopes from landslides, including slope reduction, adding retention structures, fluid removal, water diversion, and others. Slope reduction involves reducing the slope angle, placing additional support material at the foot of the slope to prevent a slide, and/or reducing the load on the slope by removing some of the materials high on the slope.
The most successful retaining walls tend to be low, thick walls placed at the toe of a slide. Fluid removal acts to reduce the role water can play in landslide. Other methods include cementing the slide material, bolting a rock slide, and the driving of vertical piles into the foot of the slope. Retaining walls and other remedial measures should be designed based on the geologic and hydrologic properties of the slope.
Critique: Many erosion problems can be prevented through proper site design or with regulations that limit development on severe slopes. These measures can help avoid costly stabilization works.
8. Brush Clearing, Controlled Burns, Fuel Breaks: brush clearing, controlled burns, and creating fuel breaks are all ways of mitigating the threat from wildfires by reducing the material that can be burned and the area in which it can spread.
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Critique: Brush clearing can destroy habitat for natural species. Fuel breaks alone will not stop a fire: the Oakland Fire of 1991 jumped an eight lane highway. Rather, fire breaks are designed to allow firefighters a chance to attack a fire.
9. Wetland Preservation and Riparian Habitat Protection: Wetlands are areas that are normally inundated with water. Many important ecological communities are found in wetlands, including bottom land hardwoods, swamps, marshes, bogs, sloughs, potholes, wet meadows, river overflow, mud flats, and natural ponds, and they are essential for a number of species of fish and wildlife. Wetlands act as flood control by storing tremendous amounts of floodwaters, slowing and reducing downstream flows. Wetlands also play an important role in coastal productivity and the cycling of river-borne material (pollutants included) by acting as a biogeochemical filter. Riparian habitat protection programs can help preserve the natural mitigating features of streams while also achieving wildlife preservation objectives.
Critique: A major study following the 1993 Midwest Floods found that wetlands restoration could be effective for small and medium floods, but its usefulness as a mitigation technique diminished as the size of the flood increased. Standalone wetlands preservation programs have had varied success. Coastal wetlands and marsh protection efforts have been more successful, largely because they are part of broader federal and state management programs. Many analysts believe that engineered wetlands, which are often used to replace natural wetlands destroyed by development, do not function as well as natural wetlands.
B. Strengthening Buildings and Facilities
1. Floodproofing: Floodproofing can be done in two ways: dry and wet. Dry floodproofing involves the sealing of a building against floodwaters by making all areas below the flood protection level watertight. This can be done by coating walls with waterproofing compounds or plastic sheeting and protecting building openings with removable shields or sandbags. Dry floodproofing is limited to 2 or 3 feet above the foundation of the building due to the pressure exerted by deeper water on the walls and floors.
With wet floodproofing, floodwaters are intentionally allowed to enter a building to reduce the pressure exerted by deep water. Wet floodproofing at minimum involves the removal of some valuable items—to the rebuilding of floodable areas. Wet floodproofing can dramatically reduce damage costs with little cost to mitigate the disaster by simply removing furniture and electrical appliances out of the floodprone area.
Critique: Although floodproofing raises construction costs, it is an effective mitigation tool and provides a high level of protection from water damage. Floodproofed buildings in the flood zone are still subject to damage from floating debris and may not provide shelter during flood events. The availability of good floodproofing techniques may actually spur development in the floodplain and encourage local governments to be more lenient in zoning for flood hazards.
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2. Elevating: Elevating a building is the raising of that building above the flood level. In coastal areas, elevating may be used to raise shore-front buildings above storm surge and storm wave heights. Effective elevation should take in consideration the need to wet floodproof everything still located in the floodprone area, such as basements or garages. It is also possible to elevate a building’s interior components, such as the electrical and heating systems, at a fraction of the cost of elevating an entire structure. It may not be possible to effectively raise many facilities, but by elevating electrical and mechanical equipment, the facility should be able to recover more quickly after a disaster.
Critique: Elevation is one of the best techniques for protecting buildings that are, or for some reason must be, located in areas prone to flooding. Elevation is cheaper than relocation and is less disruptive to the neighborhood.
Elevating a building increases its vulnerability to high winds and earthquakes. Elevating buildings in areas that are subject to erosion must be done carefully to ensure that the foundation is not swept away in a storm or over time. This problem can be addressed by building on an open foundation and sinking the piles below the anticipated depth of erosion. However, such techniques will not help if the annual rate of erosion leaves the building at sea. Many buildings, including masonry buildings and multi-story commercial properties, are heavy to raise and very susceptible to damage in the process.
3. Windproofing: Windproofing focuses on design and construction of a building to withstand wind damage. This involves the aerodynamics of a structure, materials used, and addition of features such as storm shutters. Windproofing can also help protect a building’s occupants and their possessions from broken glass and flying objects.
Critique: Residential structures are never completely windproof, only wind-resistant. Nonetheless, windproofing may encourage people to build in hazardous areas or to believe that their homes provide effective shelter from serious storms. Shingle design is generally poor, and shingles may fail in high winds even if installed properly to high-wind standards. These shingles can become wind-borne projectiles. Roofs are subject to uplift from wind and could come off entirely, leading to failure of the entire structure. However, many buildings that remain intact can suffer serious interior damage as a result of tears in the roof. These tears allow water to run in and soak the interior.
Windproofing will not protect structures from tornadoes. As a result, tornado shelters should be provided in areas with high tornado likelihood or where structures lack basements and underground protection (such as mobile home parks). Manufactured housing has proved to be especially vulnerable to damage from tornadoes.
4. Basement Protection: Basement protection may involve floodproofing of the structure, both wet and dry, as well as building a barrier around the opening to the basement to protect it from floodwaters.
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5. Seismic Retrofitting and Design: Seismic retrofitting means preparing existing and new buildings to withstand the shaking force of an earthquake. Preparedness also includes non-structural improvements to reduce earthquake damage within a structure. Seismic retrofitting involves adding braces, removing overhangs, and providing flexible utility connections and tie downs to reduce damage to existing structures.
Seismic design involves analysis of structural performance in the selected location and adding or strengthening foundation and structural elements to improve performance.
Critique: While effective, seismic retrofitting can be expensive and may be a low public priority in areas that are rarely affected by serious earthquakes. However, nearly every structure, both public and private, is a candidate for seismic retrofitting of some sort. The Uniform Building Code provides minimum life safety standards for earthquake hazards, but some manufacturing, financial, or other structures that must survive without business interruption require higher standards. These elements may increase costs by up to 1.5%.
6. Burial of Utility Lines: Burial can play an important role in protecting necessary utility connections, particularly during high winds and ice storms. Communities may also prefer having utility lines buried underground for aesthetic purposes.
Critique: Burial of utility lines makes maintenance more expensive and may also make them more susceptible to damage from floods. Pipes that are not buried deep enough may be vulnerable to erosion-related impacts.
7. Improvements to Stormwater/Wastewater/Water Treatment Facilities, Pump Stations: Improvements to stormwater, wastewater, water treatment facilities, and pump stations should be undertaken to minimize threat from flooding and other disasters. Capacity of these systems should be evaluated and, if necessary, increased to meet realistic demands.
8. Upgrading Piers/Wharves: Wharves and piers should be upgraded and retrofitted to
match the storm forces they are exposed to.
9. Repair/Reconstruction of Fuel Storage Tanks: Fuel storage tanks need to be inspected and, if necessary, repaired or reconstructed in the event of flooding or earthquake.
C. Building Codes
Building codes are laws, ordinances, or governmental regulations setting forth standards and requirements for the construction, maintenance, operation, occupancy, use or appearance of buildings, premises, and dwelling units. Building codes should be designed to ensure that development is built to withstand natural hazards. Regulatory standards should be created for the following:
a. Freeboard
b. Foundation Design
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c. Wind Standards
d. Cumulative Substantial Improvement
e. Lower Substantial Improvement
f. Critical Facilities
g. Enclosure Limits
h. Electrical and Mechanical Equipment
Critique: Building codes can be an effective way to ensure that development is built to withstand natural hazards. In particular, seismic and floodproofing codes effectively save lives and reduce building collapse. However, most codes prescribe measures to achieve life safety, not continued post-disaster performance. Changes in the codes are often difficult to enact and can be expensive for homebuilders to implement. The latter issue is of specific concern to the owners of manufactured housing, which provides a significant amount of affordable housing stock.
Building codes apply primarily to new construction or buildings undergoing substantial alteration. Requiring old buildings to be retrofitted to new standards can be politically contentious. Building inspectors are often under pressure to relax codes during post-storm reconstruction, even as the need for strict enforcement is most apparent. Such conditions emphasize the need for prior planning to set government policies regarding reconstruction in advance of a disaster.
At the same time, much of the responsibility for quality workmanship still resides with the builder. New buildings can fail in a disaster if builders or inspectors do not adequately observe the code. Studies of the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 attributed one-quarter of the storm’s total damages to shoddy workmanship and poor enforcement of the building codes. Adherence to existing codes and standards is essential to maintaining public safety and promoting an effective local mitigation program—so much so that the insurance industry has moved to rate communities according to their ability to enforce the building code and by the qualifications and training of their staff.
II. Non-structural Elements
A. Development Management
1. Planning
a. General Comprehensive Planning: Comprehensive plans and land use plans identify how a community should be developed and where development should not occur. They govern the rate, intensity, form, and quality of physical development. A thorough comprehensive plan will also address economic development, environmental, social, and hazard mitigation concerns. Uses of 9-31
the land can be tailored to match the land’s hazards, typically by reserving hazard areas for parks, golf courses, backyards, wildlife refuges, natural areas, or similar compatible uses.
Critique: Generally, comprehensive plans have limited authority, even where they are required by the state. They reflect what the community would like to see happen. Comprehensive plans are useful for creating a body of information about local hazard risks. On the one hand, they help identify hazard areas. The appropriate land uses and building (or retrofitting) standards can then be applied to these areas. On the other hand, they identify areas that are less vulnerable, where development should be directed. Their main advantage as a planning tool is that they guide other local measures, such as capital improvement programs, zoning ordinances, and subdivision ordinances.
b. Storm Hazard Mitigation and Post-storm Reconstruction Plans: A hazard mitigation plan specifies actions a community will take to reduce its vulnerability to natural hazards or to minimize the impact of a hazard event. Post-disaster reconstruction plans outline the policies or planning instruments that community officials will rely on for post-disaster decision-making. The two are often linked because the post-disaster window is considered an opportune time to make a community more disaster resilient.
Critique: A locality should develop a set of policies or planning instruments to have in place to facilitate post-storm decision making. This allows for substantial amount of decision-making to occur prior to the disaster event and permits better decision-making after the event. However, because these types of plans deal with less widely recognized policy problems and less frequently occurring events, they have not enjoyed broad political or administrative support. Non-structural mitigation actions may be particularly unpopular because they require developers and landowners to revise their expectations about development.
There are several problems with stand-alone mitigation plans. First, they are often designed to improve a community’s defenses against a disaster of the type that most recently occurred. This approach assumes that the next event will be similar. Such assumptions may lead planners to ignore other appropriate mitigation actions that would be relatively easy to undertake at the same time. Second, the time frame for constructing stand-alone plans is often too short to allow for sufficient data collection. Third, these plans may be difficult to implement unless they are integrated with other community goals and values. This final critique also applies to post-disaster reconstruction plans. If communities are not dedicated to their post-disaster recovery plan, it may be quickly discarded in an emergency.
2. Development Regulations
a. Zoning: The division of a jurisdiction into districts and the prescription of uses to which buildings within designated districts may be put, their lot size, yard size, etc.
Critique: While zoning is the most common form of land-use control available to local government, it has a number of weaknesses for mitigation purposes. First, zoning primarily affects new structures rather than existing buildings. As a result, it is a poor way to make present 9-32
development more hazard-resilient. Zoning is a spatial control, and it is therefore best suited to hazards that are also spatially defined (e.g., flooding, but not tornadoes). Zoning regulations must preserve some economically viable use of the land for the landowner; otherwise, the regulations may qualify as an unconstitutional taking. This issue generally prevents any attempt at a blanket prohibition of development in hazardous areas.
Zoning may be too flexible a tool to effectively restrict development in hazard-prone areas. Zoning is subject to changes in the courts’ views and in the political climate. The courts and public opinion tend to sway between regarding property as an individual or community resource. Communities that issue variances, special use permits, rezoning, or fail to enforce existing codes seriously weaken the effectiveness of those codes to prevent hazardous building practices. The zoning code may also be swayed by other community priorities. For example, zoning that lowers density may increase the cost of providing services for governments that are seeking the economic benefits of growth. On the other hand, zoning that raises densities may increase the number of people at risk in hazard areas. Downzoning that appears to be primarily intended to exclude low-income residents rather to reduce hazard risk may be challenged in court.
i) Overlay Zones: These zones coexist with other zones, operating like a transparency overlaying existing land use controls. Examples include floodplain and historic districts; within these areas development is regulated by the standard zoning ordinance and the unique requirements of the overlay zone.
Critique: Overlay zones allow communities to isolate and protect areas not covered by the rest of the ordinance. However, like any zoning, the protections of overlay zones can be changed or removed.
ii) Agricultural Zones: This zoning category sets a minimum lot acreage calibrated to the size necessary to maintain a commercial farm (which varies depending on the predominant crops grown in the region). Some ordinances contain a prohibition on non-farm uses (exclusive use).
Critique: An unintended consequence of the diminution of property value is that farmers are deprived of the collateral necessary for financing, making farming unfeasible. Nonexclusive use leads to renting, which does not induce major improvements in the land. A lack of such improvements reduces the viability of farming in the larger area, which in turn creates pressure to allow development. Finally, as with any zoning, this category must allow some reasonable economic use.
iii) Contract or Conditional Zoning: Under both approaches, the landowner agrees to previously unstated conditions (which can be in the form of deed restrictions) in exchange for some government action (such as a rezoning) or an exemption from other conditions. The difference between the two is that with contract zoning the government is contractually obligated to allow the use.
Critique: The purpose of these techniques is to provide flexibility in dealing with a small number of land parcels, but they can nevertheless be unpopular with developers. Contract zoning is 9-33
vulnerable to an ultra vires challenge (the government has impermissibly delegated its authority), and both can be challenged under uniformity provisions (that all land in zoning district be subject to the same restrictions) as spot zoning or as contradicting a comprehensive plan.
iv) Special Exception: This term, which is often used interchangeably with conditional use, is used for activities which are permissible but require an additional layer of approval because they need additional attention or cannot be reasonably accommodated in a traditional zoning ordinance. In some cases, the use can be by right if the developer meets certain conditions.
Critique: While designating most uses as special exceptions may be illegal, the application of the technique against all new development has been upheld when used in connection with interim zoning or if the jurisdiction already had an adequate facilities requirement.
v) Bonus and Incentive Zoning: In exchange for concessions from a developer, some governments allow developers to exceed limitations imposed by current regulations, such as building height or dwelling unit density.
Critique: This technique has not seen much use outside of non-metropolitan (i.e., rural) areas. While similar to the accepted practice of dedication, bonuses and incentives may be vulnerable in the same ways that contract zoning is and where the extent of the connection needed between the concession and the government purpose is not clear. At the very least, the public benefit must be clearly defined. The technique can be counterproductive in some locations, such as coastal areas, if it encourages higher densities at the fringe of the hazard zone.
vi) Floating Zones: These zones appear in the text of the zoning ordinance, but not on the map, and they are typically used for shopping centers, industrial areas, mobile home parks, or multi-family housing. Unlike overlay zones, floating zones replace the existing code for the places in which they are implemented. Once certain conditions (usually development-related) are met, the ordinance becomes affixed to a particular site.
Critique: While the location of floating zones can be subject to special interests and politics, they are usually based on facts, as opposed to speculated future needs. They may be vulnerable to a challenge of giving too much discretionary power or as spot zoning.
vii) Density Transfers/Average Density/Cluster: This type of regulation allows flexible design of large or small scale developments that are constructed as a unit; the actual design is a matter of negotiation, but the basic premise is that some areas are developed more intensively than would normally be allowed, while others are used less than what the market would determine. The type of development usually has to conform to zoning, but there is a trend toward allowing mixed use.
Critique: The government’s goal for this designation is to create open space, protect sensitive features, and/or allow farming to continue; the developer benefits for the higher dwelling unit density or floor area ratios. One consequence can be a form of leapfrog development with its more expensive public services. Some farm-related uses may be incompatible with residential development, and development can lower farming activity below a critical mass.
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viii) Performance or Impact Zoning: Rather than enumerating permitted uses, performance zoning sets standards for the effects or level of impact allowed for development. The standards may govern traffic, runoff, or viewsheds. The ordinance could theoretically allow any use as long as it met the requirements, but in practice most performance controls are used in conjunction with traditional zoning.
Critique: The level of expertise and size of the staff required to implement the standards depends on their comprehensiveness and how much of the jurisdiction they encompass. Performance zoning gives developers greater flexibility, but in some cases it may make enforcement more difficult. In addition, some impacts are difficult or impossible to quantify.
ix) Urban Growth Boundary: Urban containment basically involves designating a perimeter around an urban area. Urban development is encouraged within the perimeter and discouraged beyond it, generally by restricting land to resource use and very low density residential development and precluding the extension of urban services. The area within the perimeter is designed to be sufficient to accommodate the area’s growth for a specified period.
Critique: The objective of urban containment is to promote compact and contiguous development; to preserve resource production lands, open space and sensitive areas; and to create a clear boundary between urban and rural areas. If the area is too large, the boundary may not achieve its goal of compact development; if it is too small, property values may increase dramatically.
x) Specific Development Plans; Shadow Platting: This technique creates a plan which describes land uses and subdivisions in greater detail and covers a smaller area than a comprehensive plan, zoning map, or public facilities plan. The plan may include designation of specific uses and/or design standards that vary from the zoning ordinance and may even contain enough detail to allow approval of developments which comply without public hearing.
Critique: The objective of these plans is to preclude inefficient land use in areas designated for future growth at urban densities. The plans can also create neighborhood identity, coordinate development of different properties, and establish a fast track for development approvals.
b. Growth Management Techniques
i) Total Population Limits; Development Caps: As the name implies, these are absolute limits on housing units or population itself.
Critique: If a limit succeeds in limiting growth but demand for housing is high, property values will necessarily increase, which can affect the character of the community. The limits themselves do not address quality, type, and location of growth, and restricting only one development sector can lead to an imbalance of growth. Not surprisingly, a restriction on growth can cause development to leapfrog out to neighboring jurisdictions.
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ii) Rate Allocation Systems; Growth Phasing: Allocation systems and growth phases specify a rate of growth, which can be a percentage of total growth or a set number of units or square footage allowed per year.
Critique: These techniques are versatile, as they can be used to address quality, type, and location of growth. In some cases, developers compete for points which allow them to build. The points are based on criteria deemed desirable by the community, such as open space preservation, but the competition itself can be complex and time consuming to administer. If the rate or phases are slower than the market, property values will necessarily increase, which can affect the character of the community. A slower than market rate can also cause growth to leapfrog out to neighboring jurisdictions.
Applying the phases to less than all development sectors can lead to an imbalance of growth. The rates or phases can be used to ensure the adequacy of lumpy investments, such as water treatment plants, which serve the entire community and cannot be provided incrementally.
iii) Mandatory Low-income Housing Construction Ordinance: These ordinances require those developing large residential projects (often over 50 units, sale or rental) to include a certain percentage of subsidized or low-cost housing (typically 10 to 15 percent of the total number of dwelling units). This requirement can be made economically feasible by tying it to the availability of federal subsidies or tax credits, or by increasing allowable densities.
Critique: In addition to increasing the stock of lower income housing, these ordinances seek to avoid concentration and improve housing quality. In order to be effective, the area needs to have growth pressures, a relatively high rate of return development, and there should be little opportunity to serve the same market by simply building in a jurisdiction without a low-income ordinance. These ordinances may face substantial due process challenges.
c. Local Environmental Impact Ordinances: Reports to local governments on environmental impacts generally mention alternatives, mitigation strategies, and irreversible changes. By forcing developers to account for their environmental values, local governments gain the authority to encourage environmentally sound land use practices.
Critique: To be effective, the local government must have the technical capacity to review the impact statements and the administrative capacity to police any mitigation actions. While such a review might be effective on a case-by-case basis, it cannot control the overall pattern of development. For this reason, these ordinances should be used in tandem with a sound land use plan.
d. Subdivision Regulations: Subdivision regulations govern the division of a lot, tract, or parcel into two or more lots, tracts, parcels, or other divisions of land for sale or development. In addition to controlling the configuration of parcels, subdivision regulations set standards for developer-built infrastructure. Many communities include developer exactions and impact fees/system development charges in their subdivision regulations.
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Critique: Subdivision regulations are not as broad as zoning and only indirectly affect the quality and type of development that occurs on subdivided land. Since these regulations apply only when land is subdivided and sold, they do not address development of small or undivided parcels of land.
3. Land and Property Acquisition
a. Fee-simple Acquisition of Undeveloped Land: Fee-simple acquisition of undeveloped land includes the purchase of the full “bundle of rights” contained in real property. Fee-simple acquisition of undeveloped land is important for two reasons. First, it can involve removal of hazardous sites from the private market, thereby reducing potential threat to the public. Second, fee-simple acquisition can act as a development management tool for guiding the location of development.
Critique: Fee-simple acquisition can be prohibitively expensive. In addition to the cost of buying the property, a local government must delete the property from its property tax rolls and assume its maintenance costs. However, localities often find alternative ways to finance and manage property, such as land banking and use of restrictive covenants.
b. Relocation of Existing Development: Relocation means moving a building or facility to a less hazard-prone area, either within the same parcel or on a new parcel. This technique is typically used to avoid coastal or riverine flood hazards. Relocation can also be used to describe the process of demolishing a building and reconstructing it outside the hazard area.
Critique: Relocation of existing development is the surest and safest way to protect it from hazardous threats. However, relocation can become more problematic if the buildings are large and heavy, making a move difficult. Relocation can also be very expensive, especially when there is a large amount of development in the hazard prone area.
c. Purchase of Development Rights/Easements: The owner of an easement has one or more of the several rights in land, leaving the rest in the hands of the land owner. Easements either grant an affirmative right to use property, such as a right of access, or restrict the landowner’s right to use the property in a particular way. Local governments can purchase an easement in development rights and thus preclude building on the property.
Critique: By owning the development rights, the government has a very high level of control while allowing the land to remain in private hands. However, the government does lose money twice: in the purchase and foregone tax revenue from the reduced property value. The government must also police the easement, since unenforced rights may eventually be forfeited.
d. Transfer of Development Rights: These programs treat development as commodity separate from land itself. The government awards development rights based on value or acreage of land, and establishes sending and receiving areas for these rights. The sending areas contain land the government, for various reasons, seeks to protect. In these zones, landowners do not have enough rights to develop their land, but they can sell rights to developers in receiving areas.
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With these rights, projects can take on higher densities than would otherwise be permissible. In addition to density, TDR programs can be used to affect the type of uses if the rights are for specific kinds of development, as opposed to one general purpose right.
Critique: Besides protecting sensitive areas, TDR programs are supposed to reduce the land value shifts of zoning by compensating those who can’t fully develop their land. However, it is a complex system, which makes it difficult for planning staff to implement and landowners to understand and accept. TDR programs alone cannot ensure quality development or that there will be a critical mass of resource operations (for example, that there will be enough farms to support the area’s feed stores). Perhaps most importantly, the region must have enough development pressure to make the rights marketable.
e. Advance Site Acquisition (Land Banking): This technique involves the purchase of land by the government for eventual use or resale to the private sector in order to influence the character and/or timing of growth.
Critique: While on the surface, land banking may seem simple, there are several potential problems. First, the public sector, rather than private landowners, receive the benefits of property value increase. Second, value of land outside the land bank may be reduced because it eliminates the possibility of developer-contrived scarcities. Third, the government may sell land at below market prices. Plus, it requires high level of expertise on the part of planning staff, and bridging the gap between revenues from sale of land and purchase of the land may require debt financing, which will create pressure to increase sale prices. The problems addressed by land banking are often regional, and are thus beyond the power of most jurisdictions.
f. Purchase Sellback/Leaseback: The government can control the use of its land by selling or leasing it to the private sector with restrictions, covenants, and/or negative easements. In so doing, the government maintains control without having to actually manage the property. Where the government sells the property, the restrictions lower the tax burden on the owner.
Critique: Though less involved than management, the leasing or selling authority does need to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement. If the government sells a property with restrictions, those limits must be reflected in the tax burden on the new owner. As a result, sellback may not be the most lucrative way of returning government properties to the tax rolls.
g. Purchase Option (Right of First Refusal): A right of first refusal guarantees the government the first opportunity to purchase the property, while an option prevents the sale of the property to another party for specified period.
Critique: If the budget does not have room for an outright purchase, this can be an effective protection, but it can also be an unnecessary expense if the government will buy the property anyway. In addition, the property may become more expensive in between buying the option or first refusal right and the actual purchase. On the other hand, designation of future acquisition may reduce the property value, possibly making the government liable for damages if it does not go through with the purchase.
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h. Sword of Damocles Provision: A government agency with the power of eminent domain suspends condemnation of land covered by a comprehensive plan as long as the land use remains compatible with the plan. If the landowner proposes or commences a use in contravention of the plan, the land is taken into public ownership.
Critique: The federal government has used this approach in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area. These provisions allow land to remain in private ownership and are an effective, inexpensive protection tool in the short run. However, increasing land values may encourage property owners to develop incompatible uses and make the cost of condemnation prohibitive. If, on the other hand, land values are suppressed by the provisions, governments may face political pressure to remove them.
4. Taxation, Fiscal, and Other Incentives
a. Differential Assessment/Taxation: This technique can take on several different forms: reducing the tax rate applied to the assessed value of resource production land such that payments only cover essential services; reducing the assessed value of resource production land such that payments only cover essential services; reducing the assessed value of land to a percentage of urban land; assessing the value based on current income-producing capacity, as opposed to the market value (most states allow land in several specified uses, such as forests and open space, but some limit to farmland).
Critique: The differential assessment reduces the tax burden on land facing development pressure and recognizes that some tracts put less demand on services funded by property taxes. The flip side of this recognition is that the loss of tax revenue can be substantial. An unintended consequence of having preferential status is that it can be a haven for speculation as property value rises, and it can force development further out as close-in property owners hold out and sustain tax benefits.
This effect can be reduced with either a use change/conveyance penalty or a deferred taxation system, where the difference between market and preferential taxes are paid when the property is converted to a higher use (laws vary, but the range is five to ten years of tax deferred taxes due). However, the amount of accumulated taxes may not be enough to offset profits, and there may be a leapfrog effect because land farther out will have lower market value and thus lower accumulated taxes. In addition, basing the tax rate on income production for a specific property will encourage development of best farmland because it will have the lowest accumulation of deferred taxes (which can be avoided by having a uniform rate). The few legal challenges have been based on uniform taxation provisions in state constitutions.
b. Land Gains Taxation, Transfer or Development Taxes: Vermont is the only state to employ a tax on the profits gained from the sale of land. The amount is inversely proportional to the length of time land is held, and it can apply only to value of land, not improvements. There is an exception for the principal residence of seller. Transfer taxes are simply assessed against the seller of land devoted to certain designated uses. Development taxes are charged against developers obtaining permits to convert land in certain categories to more intense uses.
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Critique: These taxes discourage conversion to higher density, slow the growth rate, and discourage speculation, but they also are not effective for long term protection and may limit needed economic development while owners hold out on selling their property. The land gains tax may be vulnerable to legal challenge under the uniformity clause in state constitutions or based on discrimination against non-residents because of the principal residence exception. On the other hand, the Vermont law sustained a Fourteenth amendment challenge of arbitrary discrimination against land owners of less than six years.
c. Special Assessments Districts: Special assessment districts include property owners who benefit from a specific public improvement. These owners are charged a fee, which can be based on an attribute(s) of the property that is proportional to the benefits received from the improvement, and which is charged to both new and existing development.
There are numerous possibilities, from temporary creations designed simply to raise revenue for a specific improvement to independent, special purpose governmental entities. A commonly used example is the transportation utility fee. While exactions, bonds, impact fees, and other methods are used to pay for transportation improvements, the utility fee covers the maintenance/operation cost of the system(s).
Critique: Since this is not a tax, special assessment districts are free from constitutional requirements of uniformity, equality, and double taxation. This technique shifts the financial burden from the general public to those directly benefiting. The revenues are more predictable than sources which depend on development cycles, which makes issuing bonds easier.
d. Impact Fees/System Development Charges: These assessments are typically one-time, up-front charges (some jurisdictions allow extended payments) against new development to pay for off-site improvements. The fees can also be set up to have growth buy into existing services with excess capacity. Two specific examples of impact fees are:
1) Family Reservation Fees—where developers pay up front for their proportionate share of future improvements or expansions, and
2) Linkage Fees—where non-residential development finances needs that are linked to the new development, such as affordable housing.
Critique: Impact fees can fund wider variety of services than exactions or special districts, and they can cover the full costs of improvement, unlike land dedication requirements. On the other hand, impact fees do not help with maintenance costs. They are typically used in place of negotiated exactions, which take longer and are less predictable or equitable. Finally, every impact fee must meet a three part legal test:
1) need for improvements is created by new development,
2) the amount charged the new development is proportionate, and
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3) all revenues must be spent in proximity to the new development and within a reasonable period of time.
e. Development Impact Tax/Improvement Tax: These are taxes on new construction, including alterations to existing structures, usually paid while applying for building permit.
Critique: Unlike a fee, this charge does not need to be based on the cost of improvements needed to serve the new development, and there are no restrictions on how the revenues can be spent.
f. Developer Exactions: These are private sector investments in public infrastructure needs created by new development. Exactions can take the form of on- or offsite improvements or land dedication, and they are often a condition for approval.
Critique: There needs to be a rough proportionality between the exaction and the development’s impact. For this reason, land dedications are good, as they have a close relationship to the development, but dedications don’t cover the cost of improvements. Negotiated exactions do allow financing of improvements and can be very specific, but they also create problems: improvements usually reflect the needs of individual developments and not the community as a whole; they are not predictable; particular geographical conditions or bargaining ability may make some exactions appear inequitable; small developments may not be subject to the same kind or degree of exactions as large ones, even though they can have the same or greater cumulative effect; and exactions do not cover maintenance costs.
5. Capital Facilities Policy: This technique creates a timetable and budget of when, where, and what level of municipal services a government will supply. Typically a part of the comprehensive plan, the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) sets public spending on improvements for the ensuing five to ten years. The timetable controls growth because it is rarely feasible for a developer to provide water, sewer, and other services without a public subsidy.
Critique: Capital programming is less expensive and less likely to face legal challenges than many other growth management techniques because budgeting is a recognized function of local government. The drawback is that municipalities will often ignore their own capital improvements programs. Developers are sometimes willing and able to provide their own infrastructure. CIP should not be a community’s sole land-use policy because, although it directs the location and timing of development, it does not address its type or quality.
a. Focused Public Investment Plan (FPIP): Basically a Capital Improvements Plan for a specific area, known as a Public Investment Area (PIA). A Focused Public Investment Plan (FPIP) coordinates and concentrates investments such as water, sewer, streets, schools, and parks. While funding mechanisms and expected contributions from developers may vary, the objective is to supply fully served land for development.
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Critique: FPIPs limit growth which is dispersed and has inadequate public services. PLQs allow governments to choose which parts of the jurisdiction are suited for growth, which can include areas free of environmentally sensitive features and infill/redevelopment sites. Carefully chosen PIAs will also minimize the overall cost of providing services. FPIPs make it easier to create a system of development charges which is equitable and understandable to the developer.
b. Service Areas: The taxing authority of a government can designate areas which will receive services and those that will not, and it can tax the former at a higher rate. This technique will be more effective if used in conjunction with a regulatory program, which limits development in areas with lower, more attractive tax rates, and a capital program will make the designation more equitable and less open to legal challenge.
Critique: The uniformity of taxation provision in most state constitutions can be the basis for legal challenge. Ironically, under-served areas may be more attractive to residents because of their lower tax rate. This would run counter to the intent of a program that limits services in hazard-prone areas.
c. Marginal Cost Pricing: Under this system, new development is responsible for the incremental cost of the service needs it creates (for example, paying per foot for water and sewer) as opposed to average cost pricing (charging the same regardless of real costs). The latter form of pricing creates an incentive for low density growth away from existing services, since it is effectively subsidized higher density, close-in development.
Critique: The complexity of marginal cost pricing leads to the creation of price districts instead of pricing each development, which can lead to a problem at the district borders; people will understandably ask why they have to pay more than their next-door neighbor.
d. Concurrency/Adequate Public Facilities Requirement: This is a required level of municipal services that must exist when the proposed development is completed or within a certain period afterward.
Critique: The requirement can have the effect of encouraging development in areas already well served by public facilities, and/or shifting development to jurisdictions with lower service requirements. Demanding service requirements also may discourage certain types of development, especially high density.
6. Land Use Policy: The above development management tools should be incorporated into well defined policies (such as expressed through a comprehensive or land use plan) that address the location, density, and use of land, paying special attention to high risk areas. Development should be located away from high hazard areas. Density should reflect the impacts of development on the environment as well as the ability of local government to protect the community and the need to evacuate the area. Use of land should also be reflective of the impacts on the environment and reduction of hazards.
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7. Moratoria: A moratorium is a short-term suspension of right to develop, usually done by not issuing permits. Moratoria can play an important role following a disaster by giving time to set priorities for response and potential mitigation efforts.
Critique: Since moratoria are frequently subject to legal and political challenges, communities must be prepared to show adequate justification for taking this action. With such justification, a moratorium is likely to withstand judicial scrutiny.
8. Reconstruction Triage: Reconstruction triage is the sorting of priorities for reconstruction. The use of a triage for decisions on reconstruction should be outlined in a post-disaster reconstruction plan, created prior to the disaster.
B. Information Dissemination
1. Real Estate Disclosure Requirements: Real estate disclosure requirements require notification that the property to be purchased is located in a hazard-prone area. Currently, federally regulated lending institutions must advise applicants for a mortgage or other loan that it is to be secured on a building which is in a floodplain as shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). California law requires explicit disclosure of six hazard zone maps (including FIRM) and any other information that is pertinent to the sale. Since the buyer can back out of the purchase without penalty, the disclosures are usually comprehensive and made shortly after the offer is accepted, if not before.
Critique: Since this requirement has to be met only five days before closing, often the applicant is already committed to purchasing the property when he or she first learns of the flood hazard. State laws and local practices by local real estate boards can overcome this deficiency by advising newcomers about the hazard earlier. They may also require disclosure of past disaster events, regardless of whether the property is in a mapped high-risk zone. Terms and maps of hazardous areas used for disclosure of hazard risk should be meaningful to homebuyers as well as planners and professional/technical people.
2. Community Awareness Programs: Community awareness programs may be used in conjunction with and/or in place of real estate disclosure requirements to directly educate the potential homebuyer and the community of hazard risks. Information can be presented in a number of ways, including information pamphlets, brochures, literature, and workshops. Topics may include identification of hazards, things to consider in purchasing a home or business, and ways to limit exposure and reduce future property damages.
Critique: General awareness programs have a mixed record of building public support for mitigation. More successful are self-help programs with a narrow scope, such as residential floodproofing or earthquake mitigation drives.
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3. Hazard Disclosure
a. Mapping Hazards: The application of vulnerability and/or risk analysis, inventories, and other studies to maps is an important step in reducing disaster potential. Locating hazards can be accomplished through cooperation with a number of federal and state agencies. Use of a geographic information system (GIS) to overlay high risk areas over property maps can serve as indicators of sites for mitigation.
Critique: Mapping can be an expensive task because it requires staff time and technical expertise. While maps can be produced effectively using GIS, these tools require both technology and staff training.
b. Notification: Notification of the locations of hazards and risks needs to be given to public officials, public employees and agencies, the general public, and the private sector. Notification can be given through workshops, information pamphlets, brochures, literature, etc. It is important that information on the location of hazards is shared between agencies to ensure better decision-making.
4. Disaster Warning: The first step in responding to a potential disaster is to know that one is coming. This may require monitoring of local conditions. Disaster warnings can be administered in a number of ways; e.g., sirens, radio, television, cable TV, mobile public address systems, telephone trees, and even door-to-door contact. Multiple or redundant warning systems are most effective, as the message will be received even if one part of the warning system is not heard.
Critique: People ignore warnings for a variety of reasons: they misperceive the probability of a disaster; they underestimate the effectiveness of mitigation measures; they have a fatalistic belief that it is impossible to control their fate. On the other hand, people may rely too heavily on warnings, leading them to unnecessarily expose themselves to risk.
5. Workshops: Workshops can play a valuable role in preparation for a disaster. Workshops can be arranged for public employees and/or state agencies, for general public, and for public officials. These workshops should include education regarding the potential hazards, possible mitigation steps that can be taken, and how to respond after a disaster occurs.
6. Education and Training: Education and training for awareness of hazards, mitigation steps, and disaster response should not only be targeted to public employees, agencies, and public officials, but should also include the general public and the private sector, especially developers and property owners.
Critique: Studies of education and training efforts in this field have found that they are of uneven quality and effectiveness.
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III. Private Sector
A. Lending: The application of a real estate disclosure requirement or other information to lending sources regarding the risk of development in hazard prone areas would reduce the cost of lending both to the lending institutions and to the consumers of their services. It is important that lending institutions understand the risk of supporting development in high-risk areas.
B. Insurance: The insurance industry plays an important part in the private sector guiding of development. The National Flood Insurance Program is a good example of how the insurance industry can also play a role in promoting development that reduces hazard risk. Insurers are taking steps to reduce their risks by limiting disaster coverage. Unfortunately, their current practices tend to leave all without disaster coverage rather than those in the most hazardous areas. Earthquake insurance in California is an example of this.
C. Building Industry: The building industry should be educated to the structural and building codes designed to reduce damage from hazardous events. The building industry should also be educated on the location of high risk areas and ways to mitigate hazardous threats.
The commercial building industry is fairly well versed about mitigation, as they or their clients cannot afford long business interruptions. But residential developers strongly oppose any provisions not in the Uniform Building Code as it decreases their short-term profits. Land costs are about 20% of construction costs; thus cheaper, more hazardous land may actually be viewed as more profitable to develop. Most buyers don’t know that “built to code” means “won’t kill you but won’t be usable after the disaster.”
[Source: Brower, D. (1997). Planning to Mitigate the Impacts of Natural Hazards in the Caribbean: A Training Program. S. Stichter. Unpublished, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
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