Collaborative Research: Evaluating the potential for urban resilience planning to

Project: Research project

Project Details


Introduction to Host Organization:
As specified in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for coordinating government-wide
federal disaster responses and relief efforts. To support these responsibilities, FEMA maintains ten field
offices that provide a permanent presence and point-of-contact across multi-state regions. These
regional offices work directly with state, tribal, and local agencies and stakeholders to mobilize federal
assets when requested, and to improve local capacities to prepare for emergencies, protect against,
recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
The FEMA Region IX office, located in Oakland, California, is responsible for coordinating
actions across Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of
Northern Mariana Islands, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and more than
150 sovereign tribal entities. Within the regional office, the Mitigation Division is charged with fostering
the development of sustainable, disaster-resilient communities. The Divisions Risk Analysis Branch
(RAB) works directly with communities to plan for and implement actions to manage and reduce disaster
risk and future losses from hazards. One of the key responsibilities of the branch is to support the
development and maintenance of state, tribal, and local Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs), conditionally
required to access certain federal grants and financial assistance. Branch Hazard Mitigation Planners
provide a resource for technical assistance and consultation, reviewing hazard mitigation activities,
plans, and programs, and providing guidance on the integration of risk reduction strategies with
community plans and programs.
Project Summary:
While gaining insights into the operations and responsibilities of the FEMA Region IX Mitigation
Division, my central project is to research how local jurisdictions are leveraging state-level policies that
link hazard mitigation, climate change adaptation, and other local planning actions. With limited federal
policies requiring climate change considerations in local planning, yet growing interest in voluntary local
climate plans, there is an urgent need to understand the influence of state-level planning policies on local
planning activities. As hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation planning share similar goals 13,
attention has turned to ways in which cities and counties may leverage established planning processes,
such as hazard mitigation, to address climate risk 4,5.
State-level planning policies are understood to be an important factor affecting the quality and
content of local plans, exerting greater sway than federal policies 6,7. Since the introduction of the
Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-390), amending the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief
and Emergency Assistance Act, FEMA-directed hazard mitigation planning has gained acceptance, with
over 26,000 communities adopting HMPs as of 2012 8. While each state is required to adopt a State
Hazard Mitigation Plan, local jurisdictions may voluntarily adopt their own HMP to remain eligible for
certain federal grants and financial assistance. Accordingly, the hazard mitigation planning process is
now well established across the majority of local jurisdictions. However, as HMPs only require planners
to consider past occurrences of hazards in their risk assessments, plans are often devoid of climate
change considerations, and thus present a major limitation of the current process 4,9.
To encourage the integration of climate change with local plans, some states have adopted
legislation that specifically addresses this planning challenge. In 2015, the State of California passed
Senate Bill (SB) 379, requiring all cities and counties, starting in 2017, to include climate adaptation and
resiliency strategies in their local HMP or in the safety element of their General Plan. In conjunction with
California state law AB-2140, which incentivizes local jurisdictions to adopt HMPs by offering up to 75
percent of total state eligible costs to federally approved hazard mitigation grant projects, SB-379
provides a novel, yet simplified process for mainstreaming climate change in local plans. In order to
evaluate the effectiveness of Californias approach, and to determine its applicability in other state
legislative contexts, this project has the following objectives:
Catalogue current U.S. state regulations encouraging or mandating local hazard mitigation and climate
change planning - policy analysis
DCL (NSF 18-102): Non-Academic Research Internships for Graduate Students (INTERN) Supplemental Funding
Determine the extent to which climate change has been incorporated in local California plans adopted
since the passage of SB-379 - document analysis
Assess the quality of SB-379 compliant plans - document analysis
Classify the mitigation or adaptation strategies in SB-379 compliant plans document analysis
Assess the utility of FEMA, CalAdapt, or other climate change risk planning tools and resources, to
local planners qualitative interviews or surveys
Evaluate local planners perceptions of mainstreaming climate change with existing planning
frameworks qualitative interviews or surveys
The culmination of this internship will result in a policy report delivered to the FEMA Region IX office.
Additionally, data collected during this project will lay the groundwork for my own dissertation research
and follow-on peer-reviewed journal publications. Additionally, the knowledge gained through this
internship will build on preliminary findings from the original NSF-funded Resilience Planning Networks
project (Grant title: Collaborative Research: Evaluating the Potential for Urban Resilience Planning to
Mitigate Long-term Flood Risks). Our four city case studies are revealing uneven integration between
hazard mitigation and climate change or resilience planning, and this internship will allow me to expand
this line of inquiry and determine how generalizable the findings are.
Work performed during the internship will total no more than 20-hours per week to allow sufficient
time to complete any remaining dissertation-specific coursework. The internship will not interfere with any
degree or graduation milestones.
Workforce Preparation:
I began my doctoral studies in 2018 to address observed gaps between research and
professional practice in U.S. approaches to hazard mitigation, sustainability, and climate resilience
planning. I have since honed my research skills and knowledge of plan integration challenges working on
the Planning Networks project over the past two years. This internship affords an opportunity to apply
those skills to a practitioner-based research challenge, while at this same time cultivating a robust
professional network amongst planners, academics, federal agencies, and state policy-makers. Upon
graduation, I intend to seek employment in boundary-spanning positions, working at the interface of
research and practice. This internship would help develop the acumen to translate science into practice
and vice versa, a skillset critical to success in an area with diverse stakeholders.


Project Summary

2017 was the most costly year on record for US disasters, with flooding alone accounting for over $3 billion in damages. By 2050, flood damages are projected to increase to more than $60 billion per year globally. Costs continue to rise in part due to the isolation of hazard mitigation planning from land use and other planning processes. Resilience planning has emerged as a new framework to coordinate flood mitigation and other planning processes. Resilience attempts to integrate flood mitigation with other community goals by recognizing the interdependencies between disasters and the constant stressors cities face, such as poverty, aging infrastructure, and climate change. As such, resilience planning is theorized to help increase collaboration and avoid counterproductive outcomes that arise from treating interrelated problems in isolation. Many cities are now ostensibly engaged in resilience planning, however the extent to which resilience is actually transforming planning processes, stakeholder collaboration, or mitigation of long-term flood risks is unclear. The central goal of this research is to assess the degree of coordination of government agencies and stakeholders engaged in resilience planning and to examine the influence of coordination on the integration of flood mitigation across multiple plans. By combining interviews, social network analysis, and plan evaluation in four cities at the forefront of resilience planning, this study will provide critical and timely information about the government structures and planning processes that address long-term flood risk. The study has four primary objectives:

Objective 1: Examine how public, private, and community actors engaged in flood mitigation interpret and operationalize the concept of resilience. Surveys of diverse actors engaged in flood mitigation will expose whether stakeholders have common or competing definitions of resilience.

Objective 2: Characterize inter-organizational dynamics around flood resilience planning by analyzing urban governance networks. Using network analysis, this study will map and measure the degree of coordination of government agencies and stakeholders engaged in flood resilience planning.

Objective 3: Assess and compare the quality, consistency, and level of integration among different types of city plans that impact flooding. Applying the latest techniques of plan evaluation, this research will examine the quality and consistency of plans and assess whether goals and strategies conflict, which may actually increase vulnerability to flooding.

Objective 4: Evaluate the influence of different conceptualizations of resilience and governance network structures on cities plans and policies. By assessing the coordination of government agencies engaged in resilience planning, and by evaluating the influence of coordination on plan integration, this study will test existing theories on resilience, urban governance, and planning.

Intellectual Merit. This study will provide missing empirical data to test a number of existing theories about resilience, urban planning and governance, and flood mitigation. This study would be one of the first to apply social network analysis to city flood resilience networks, providing a better understanding of what organizations are commonly included and excluded from resilience planning. Moreover, it would be an early effort to combine social network analysis with assessment of plan quality and integration. By comparing plan quality and integration with measures of network collaboration, results will address the widely cited claim that collaboration leads to better, more integrated plans that are more likely to reduce vulnerability to flooding. Resilience planning is a nascent but rapidly growing focus of urban research and policy, this study will provide a foundation for future inquiry and comparisons across cities.

Broader Impacts. This study will advance knowledge of how resilience planning shapes urban governance at a time when flooding and other shocks and stresses pose an increasingly serious threat for cities. The fragmented and siloed approach to hazard mitigation is a major barrier to reducing flood damage. This study will provide insights about the potential of resilience planning to engage a broader set of stakeholders and integrate flood mitigation across plans. Results will better inform local planners, emergency managers, and other officials about the governance of resilience efforts. Findings will also provide guidance to federal, state, and non-profits on how to foster local resilience. The project will help to educate future resilience planning professionals through the development and implementation of educational case studies and participation of graduate students throughout the research process.
Effective start/end date9/1/188/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $214,828.00


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