Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Prepare for Disasters — Building Community Resilience Through Planning, Mitigation, and Insurance

Building community resilience requires comprehensive emergency management, from preparedness to mitigation, response, and recovery. Like Rome, community resilience cannot be built in a day. It requires a comprehensive approach that engages the Whole Community. Building resilience is a process that can – and should be – unique to individual communities; however, working to build a community, prepared to overcome and bounce back from disaster events, involves work in four main categories:

  • Intentional Planning for Safe Future Development and Redevelopment
    • Ideally, communities develop in ways that prevent vulnerability by avoiding or building to account for hazards present in a given area.
  • Mitigating Existing Risk
    • When community assets are found to exist within hazardous areas, communities can take action to reduce the risk through structural and non-structural projects.
  • Using Insurance to “Buy Down” Risk
    • In addition to mitigation efforts, insurance can be used to reduce the potential out-of-pocket costs of hazard events.
  • Building Resilience in Post-Disaster Environments
    • Finally, when disasters do strike, the need to rebuild can provide an opportunity to evolve and transform communities to build back in ways that are safer and more resilient.

Intentional Planning for safe future development and redevelopment

Fundamental community planning techniques can support reaching resilience, minimizing future risk through intentional land use planning, building requirements, and zoning ordinances. Additionally, communities do not have to fund their resilience alone, it is important to capitalize on all available federal funding to support community goals.

Pre-disaster recovery planning efforts are vital to guiding communities through the process of disaster recovery. Every disaster scenario is unique, but there tend to be consistent challenges, competing pressures, and common organizational and policy issues that arise in disaster recovery environments. By implementing strategic planning for operations, organization, and policy needs that may arise in a post-disaster environment during “blue skies,” communities set the stage for efficient and effective recovery efforts, regardless of the specific nature of the disaster.

Even after disaster strikes, strategic planning for recovery is vital leveraging limited and time-sensitive opportunities to bounce back and strengthen community resilience. Recovery action and redevelopment plans are the typical tools utilized to support developing a strategy for promoting effective recovery. Strategic planning also allows for communities to recognize problems that existed prior to the disaster and build a more resilient community through the recovery process.

To help communities plan for disaster recovery and enhance their community’s resilience, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) adopted the Community Lifelines concept. Lifelines are critical government and business functions and are essential to human health and safety or economic security. Supported by an integrated network of assets, services, lifelines enable all other aspects of society to function. This framework, originally adapted for emergency response, can be used to help communities think through the pillars of preparedness, recovery, and resilience. Additionally, a key aspect of the concept highlights the importance of private sector integration into community planning and infrastructure resilience. As the private sector owns and operates approximately 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure, public-private partnerships are key to truly reducing disaster risk.

Mitigating Existing Risk

You may have heard that “every dollar spent on mitigation saves an average of four dollars (in losses avoided).”This figure comes from an independent study published in 2005 by the Multi-hazard Mitigation Council, and was cited for more than a decade. In 2017, Pew Charitable Trusts published findings from another independent study of mitigation actions nationwide, which indicated that the 4-to-1 ratio was in fact under-estimating the value of mitigation. Looking at mitigation activities funded through federal funding programs across all hazards, Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that the true ratio is closer to 6-to-1.

Pew Charitable Trusts Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report

FEMA’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program represents an important change to the mitigation landscape. Funding for the program is tied directly to disaster-related damages, with approximately $500 million available in 2020. The BRIC evaluation criteria prioritizes projects that increase the resilience of interconnected infrastructure and system-wide improvements, making major mitigation projects more feasible than ever before.

A notable aspect of the BRIC program is the annual allocation of $600,000, per eligible applicant, for Capability and Capacity Building (C&CB) projects. This set-aside funding provides an avenue for funding efforts to enhance mitigation expertise and knowledge at the state and local level. For example, C&CB projects can include evaluating and increasing building codes, establishing partnerships, scoping projects, or conducting mitigation planning or planning-related activities.


Commonly, risk cannot be fully reduced through planning and mitigative action. Buying down the remaining risk through hazard insurance can be an effective way to lessen the potential financial burdens of disasters. Insurance is the only option that immediately offers risk reduction benefits, which makes it uniquely valuable and an attractive option for homeowners, renters, business owners, and local governments.

  • Homeowners and renters benefit greatly from the purchase of various types of hazard insurance since it is often not included in a standard homeowner’s policy. If you live where it rains, then your house can flood. For those who live outside of designated flood zones, flood insurance is often very affordable. Homes outside the flood zone may benefit particularly from buying down their risk since these are areas often have more lenient building and development requirements and enforcement.
  • Business owners can mitigate against business interruption by purchasing insurance coverage to reimburse profits lost from service interruption. Business owners may also choose to purchase endorsements on a standard policy to provide additional coverage of unforeseen
  • Local and state governments can purchase hazard insurance to fully cover future damages sustained by public buildings.

Post-Disaster Resilience-Building

Disasters force communities to see the risk(s) hazards pose to them –setting the stage for a concentrated risk reduction and investments in resilience. Communities see aspects of their communities and life devastated, and thereby become more motivated to invest in protective measures as communities recover. Moreover, federal recovery programs, such as the FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the United States (US) Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, provide funding for communities to not just build back, but build back better. This has inspired communities to transform in the wake of a disaster to reduce risk, better meet community needs, and increase equity.

Recovery, however, can be extremely complex. In the aftermath of a disaster event, there are numerous competing pressures on politicians and local government leadership that can hinder decision-making.

Assigning roles and responsibilities to individuals to manage the recovery of a community can be extremely important in effectively recovering from even the smallest disasters. Additionally, while federal programs provide well needed financial support, they also have strict requirements which can be difficult to understand and meet, particularly in the chaos of response and recovery. No matter how much funding is available, however, recovery also requires prioritization of funding and effort which requires management of community expectations.

Reaching Resilience Is a Marathon, not a sprint

Building resilience requires a comprehensive approach, from the individual or homeowner level on up to the government and community scale. It must be iterative, flexible, and aligned with the financial, political, and other realities of the area. Efforts will not be successful overnight. However, by taking a multi-pronged and strategic approach, communities can plan for and build a more resilient future.


At Hagerty we have the expertise, passion, and commitment to assist your community with resilience-building efforts. From supporting pre- and post-disaster recovery planning efforts to hazard mitigation planning projects and navigating funding streams and developing project applications, we’re here to help.

Please reach out to April Geruso, Hagerty’s Director of Resilience, to walk through discuss any potential support that Hagerty can provide.


Michelle Bohrson is a Managing Associate with Hagerty Consulting’s Preparedness Division. Michelle primarily supports pre- and post-disaster recovery planning and hazard mitigation planning projects. Michelle earned her Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) from the University of Michigan and is based out of the Austin, TX office.

Michael Levkowitz is a Managing Associate with Hagerty Consulting’s Preparedness Division with strategic expertise in mitigation planning and funding. Michael has served in a variety of roles supporting local, state, tribal, and federal agencies with hazard mitigation and long-term recovery planning, emergency preparedness, and risk communication. Prior to joining Hagerty, Michael served as the Mitigation Strategist for Washington State Emergency Management Division. He earned his Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of Washington.