Smart Growth Strategies for Disaster Recovery and Resilience
How and where growth occurs, both in the short and long terms, can have a major impact on how well communities can prepare for and recover from natural disasters. But communities have not always used development planning as a strategy to become more resilient to hazards. Integrating smart growth approaches into preparedness and recovery can change this dynamic. Smart growth strategies like creating flexible land use policies, targeting public investment to catalyze private investment, and engaging the entire community in making decisions about the future can help communities recover from a disaster, rebuild according to a shared community vision, and be better prepared for the next natural disaster.
EPA-FEMA Memorandum of Agreement
In 2010, EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that makes it easier for the two agencies to work together to help communities become safer, healthier, and more resilient. The agencies collaborate to help communities hit by disasters rebuild in ways that protect the environment, create long-term economic prosperity, and enhance neighborhoods. FEMA and EPA also help communities incorporate strategies that improve quality of life and direct development away from vulnerable areas into their hazard mitigation plans. EPA and FEMA are using the lessons they learn from working together under this MOA and with other federal agencies to better coordinate assistance to communities on hazard mitigation planning and post-disaster recovery. The MOA also helps the agencies work together on climate change adaptation.
- Read the Memorandum of Agreement between FEMA and EPA (PDF) (23 pp, 4.5 MB, About PDF).
Some of the projects on which FEMA and EPA have collaborated include:
Flood resilience and recovery assistance for the state of Vermont
Through its Smart Growth Implementation Assistance Program, EPA worked with several Vermont state agencies, including the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and communities in Vermont’s Mad River Valley in 2013 to identify smart growth strategies that can help vulnerable communities prepare for and recover from floods. Although the project focused on state policies, local land use development policies, and hazard mitigation plans for communities in Vermont, the report and its Flood Resilience Checklist can help any community seeking to become more resilient to future floods.
- Read the report: Planning for Flood Recovery and Long-Term Resilience in Vermont: Smart Growth Approaches for Disaster-Resilient Communities (PDF) (64 pp, 3.8MB, About PDF)
- Download the Flood Resilience Checklist: Flood Resilience Checklist (PDF) (6 pp, 430K, About PDF)
- Read the blog post by Joel Beauvais, Associate Administrator for EPA's Office of Policy, about smart growth approaches for flood-resilient communities.
Preparing for Sea Level Rise in Coastal North Carolina
In 2012, in partnership with FEMA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Management, EPA worked with the coastal towns of Wilmington and New Bern, North Carolina. In recent years, both communities have been affected by extreme weather events and more frequent flooding. Concerns about these issues and sea level rise led both jurisdictions to request assistance to understand the potential impact of sea level rise on existing neighborhoods and water and sewer infrastructure and identify ways to reduce vulnerability.
- The Wilmington project examined ways to protect regional water and sewer infrastructure after a vulnerability assessment revealed that future sea level rise would likely inundate wastewater treatment facilities, pump stations, manholes, and other facilities. The EPA and FEMA assistance identified land use and infrastructure strategies that could reduce vulnerability, including design solutions such as using green infrastructure to reduce the amount of stormwater that enters or inundates wastewater infrastructure, engineering approaches such as elevating a facility, and land use options such as preserving undeveloped areas that are vulnerable to future flooding.
- The New Bern project looked at options for using green infrastructure to manage stormwater, reduce flooding risk, and improve water quality in the Gateway District, an historic African-American neighborhood next to downtown. This neighborhood floods regularly because of its ineffective stormwater conveyance system and topography. (Parts of the neighborhood are only 1 to 2 feet above sea level.) With EPA and FEMA’s assistance, the city explored how green infrastructure could help improve stormwater conveyance and reduce ponding on streets and in yards. The city also identified potential locations in the Gateway District for new green infrastructure.
Complete, green streets assistance for Joplin, Missouri
After an F-5 tornado hit the East 20th Street corridor in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, residents and leaders decided to try to redesign the corridor as a model for green, complete streets that other locations in the community could follow. Green, complete streets are safe and comfortable for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and drivers, and incorporate natural elements to manage stormwater. In 2012, EPA’s Region 7 office provided technical assistance to Joplin to help create safer, more attractive streets and manage stormwater in a more environmentally friendly manner. Before the project began, FEMA worked with local stakeholders to identify long-term community recovery needs and helped EPA match its assistance with those needs.
- Read the report: EPA Technical Assistance: Joplin, Missouri Complete/Green Streets (PDF) (45 pp, 4.5 MB, About PDF)
Land use planning assistance for Spirit Lake Nation, North Dakota
In 2011, FEMA, EPA, and outside experts worked with the Spirit Lake Nation, a tribe in North Dakota that has experienced 17 years of chronic flooding, to develop a land use plan that directs growth away from known flood risk areas and improves overall quality of life on the reservation.
The project resulted in the following report and fact sheet:
- Report: A Sustainable Development Framework for Spirit Lake Nation (PDF) (80 pp, 3.2MB, About PDF)
- Fact sheet: Revitalization in Tribal Communities (PDF) (2 pp, 451K, About PDF)
Post-disaster assistance to Iowa communities
In 2009, FEMA and EPA worked with Iowa state agencies and local partners to help six Iowa communities plan their recovery after floods and tornadoes.
- Read more about the assistance to Iowa communities.
Climate change and resilience assistance for the state of Iowa
In 2009, EPA and FEMA worked with state and local leaders in Iowa to explore how the latest science on changing weather patterns due to climate change could be integrated into state and local planning efforts to adapt to and mitigate future natural disasters.
Smart Growth and Climate Change
Disaster resilience is closely tied to climate change adaptation, as climate change is linked to the increasing intensity and frequency of severe storms, heavy downpours, and wildfires in many parts of the country, as well as higher storm surges as sea levels rise. Visit our Smart Growth and Climate Change page for climate adaptation resources and EPA’s climate portal for links to more information about climate change.
Governors’ Institute on Community Design
The Governors’ Institute on Community Design helps governors and their staff make informed decisions about investments and policy decisions that influence the economic health and physical development of their states. The Governors’ Institute offers technical assistance, typically in the form of two-day workshops, on a variety of topics, including disaster recovery and resilience. For example, at the request of Governor Peter Shumlin, the Governors’ Institute went to Vermont in December 2011 to support the state’s efforts to recover from Tropical Storm Irene and prepare for a more resilient future.
- Learn more about the Governors’ Institute on Community Design
- Learn more about the workshop.
- Read the report: Recovery and Resilience the Vermont Way
2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement
EPA presented the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the Plazas, Parks, and Public Places category to Charles City, Iowa, for its Riverfront Park. The city turned flood plain land acquired through FEMA buyouts into a park that provides recreation for residents and visitors but also helps reduce flooding.
- Learn more about the award to Charles City, Iowa
Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth: Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth and Hazard Mitigation Roundtable
2012. EPA and the state Sea Grant College Programs of Rhode Island, Texas, and Hawaii organized a meeting on how coastal and waterfront communities can create economically and environmentally sustainable neighborhoods while minimizing risks from flooding and related natural hazards. This report provides ideas from that meeting on research, tools, services, and approaches to integrate smart growth and hazard mitigation strategies on the coast.
- Read the report: Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth: Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth and Hazard Mitigation Roundtable
This January 2014 article by Will Doig, “You Can’t Stop Urban Flooding” and video by Still Life Projects show how Boulder, Colorado, built infrastructure, including bike paths and bridges, that provide everyday benefits for residents while helping prepare the city for floods.