Considering Hazards in Comprehensive Planning: A Growing Trend

Considering Hazards in Comprehensive Planning: A Growing Trend

Waverly Klaw, Long-Term Recovery Planner, Colorado Department of Local Affairs (
Anne Miller, Senior Planner, Colorado Department of Local Affairs (

Since the recent wildfires and floods of 2012 and 2013, Colorado communities have experienced firsthand the devastating effects of natural hazards. According to Swiss Re’s preliminary estimates for 2014, natural hazards accounted for approximately $106 billion in economic losses globally. Knowing the high costs of recovery, many communities are turning to mitigation and resilience in order to reduce potential losses due to natural hazards.

Hazard mitigation has traditionally been undertaken in a regional, county, or municipal Hazard Mitigation Plan. The plan typically includes conducting an assessment of risk and prescribing measures to reduce vulnerability to those risks. These FEMA-approved plans enable the jurisdiction to be eligible for federal disaster funds if a federally declared disaster does occur. FEMA requires hazard mitigation plans to be updated every five years to remain eligible.

While hazard mitigation plans can help a community reduce risk, recommendations from the plan often remain siloed from other plans, and emergency managers are typically the ones responsible for developing the plan and carrying out the recommendations.

In order to take a holistic view of the community, some are beginning to view hazard mitigation more broadly in the context of community resilience. According to the National Disaster Recovery Framework, “resilience incorporates hazard mitigation and land use planning strategies; critical infrastructure, environmental and cultural resource protection; and sustainability practices to reconstruct the built environment, and revitalize the economic, social and natural environment.” Ultimately, a community is more resilient when it can recover more quickly from any major impact, such as a disaster. One way to further community resilience is by bringing hazard mitigation measures into arenas such as a community’s comprehensive plan.

In 2012, Adams County was at the forefront of such integration with Imagine Adams County, which includes not only the comprehensive plan update, but a transportation plan, hazard mitigation plan, and an Open Space, Parks, and Trails Master Plan.

The State of Colorado is currently working to assist municipalities that are interested in integrating resilience and hazard mitigation into their planning efforts. In 2014, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs partnered with FEMA and the American Planning Association Colorado Sustainability Committee to put on two half-day sessions entitled “Planning for a Resilient Community.” This workshop, led by Julie Baxter, described the relationship between the impacts of hazards and community design and spelled out specific steps that can be taken to further resilience through various community plans. This course can be offered again, and interested communities or organizations can contact the authors for details.

The American Planning Association is also on the cutting edge of this integrative approach, and has published “Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning.” This guide, developed by natural hazards expert James Schwab, takes the reader through comprehensive plans, sub area plans, zoning and form-based codes, and capital improvements programming with the objective of integrating hazard mitigation into each.

Communities that are located in federally declared disaster areas from the 2012 and 2013 fires and floods are currently eligible to receive Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Resilience Planning Grant Program funds to embark upon a hazard mitigation-integrated comprehensive plan update. Municipalities such as the Town of Milliken and the City of Longmont are currently engaged in this process using CDBG-DR Planning funds that were granted in 2014. For more information and to track upcoming application deadlines of the CDBG-DR Resilience Planning Grant Program see the DOLA CDBG-DR website.



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