Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

What Comes Next After A Disaster?

What Comes Next After A Disaster? Rebuilding Smarter, Better, Faster


Strong leadership before, during, and after a disaster means having the foresight to understand that crisis also presents unprecedented opportunities to improve public services and infrastructure. In a recent report, the independent, non-partisan Lincoln Institute of Land Policy examined how recoveries from major disasters were managed in the United States and five other nations. The report found that “(i)f done well, reconstruction can help break the cycle of disaster-related impacts and losses and improve the resilience of a city or region.”

A major disaster disrupts the ecosystem of a community. Families are displaced from their homes, public services are interrupted, sometimes for months or years, and lives can be lost. Despite this incredible disruption, the process of recovery after a major disaster presents communities with opportunities to revisit long-standing issues such as construction and design standards, governance, land-use and zoning, or infrastructure longevity. Absent a major crisis, creating a disaster recovery and redevelopment plan can provide the impetus for the same kind of systemic policy revisions.

What Is a Disaster Recovery and Redevelopment Plan?

In an address to the American Society of Civil Engineers delivered in 1949, President Harry S. Truman relayed the following charge. “I was a great admirer of old D. H. Burnham of Chicago, who organized the Chicago regional planning, and he had a motto over his mantel on which was written ‘Make No Little Plans.’ You can always amend a big plan, but you never can expand a little one. I hope that is the motto of the American Society of Civil Engineers.” Before a disaster hits is the time to plan and address conceptually how your community will address long term disaster impacts.

Topics to considering in development of these plans are:

  • Continuing the delivery of vital services,
  • Protecting lives and property,
  • Restoring damaged facilities, and
  • Increasing the resilience of public infrastructure.

The purpose of a disaster recovery and redevelopment plan (sometimes called a “post-disaster recovery” plan) is to guide recovery decisions by emphasizing hazard mitigation and community involvement. Disaster recovery and redevelopment plans delineate post-disaster responsibilities and provide a roadmap for the transition from response to long-term recovery.

Where to Start?

Before initiating the planning process for a long-term recovery and redevelopment plan, it is imperative that you identify a funding source. Various programs within the Federal Government, such as FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM) or its Community Assistance Program – State Support Services Element (CAP-SSSE), may be available to your jurisdiction for strategic planning.

After securing funding for the duration of the planning cycle, at a minimum, a planning team needs to be identified. In our experience from supporting clients nationwide across all levels of government and the private sector, the planning team usually consists of:

  • Lead Agency or Agencies – One to two lead(s), responsible for the oversight of planning activities, and
  • Supporting Agencies – project stakeholders, responsible for providing insight, feedback, and representing their agency’s interests in the planning process.

Partnering disaster-centric emergency managers and visionary urban planners is ideal for long-term recovery and redevelopment planning. By assigning lead positions to agencies with inherently different approaches to planning, a system of checks and balances is established at the head of the planning team.

The lead agencies can then apply both skillsets to engage the community in a deliberate and meaningful planning process. This approach enables a greater-degree of information-sharing between diverse stakeholders, while empowering the lead agencies to take charge of the effort and drive it forward.

Four Recommendations to Improve Your Disaster Recovery and Redevelopment Plan

Actual contents of disaster recovery and redevelopment plans vary by jurisdiction, but Hagerty Consulting recommends that, at minimum, our clients include the following:

  1. A trigger for the transition from response to recovery,
  2. An in-depth analysis of existing plans, policies, and procedures related to recovery and redevelopment,
  3. Clear roles and responsibilities for a large network of stakeholders, and
  4. A list of proposed next steps or actions to improve recovery and redevelopment policies.

As stated in FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework, the success of a disaster recovery and redevelopment plan is dependent upon the creativity and flexibility of its strategies, support from diverse stakeholders, and its resonance with community values.

Returning to the Lincoln Institute’s report, during disaster recovery, there are competing demands for speed and increased oversight. By revising recovery and redevelopment policies before a disaster occurs, communities can address both needs and positively impact long-term recovery operations.