Inclusion of Disaster Resiliency In City/Neighborhood Comprehensive Plans

Douglas Gavin


Urban planning professionals and FEMA encourage the inclusion of hazard mitigation in the urban planning process. Comprehensive plans are a tool that planners create to strategize for the future of a community and/or city and to determine how the land and its citizens will interact within the community’s spaces. To better understand the relationship between comprehensive plans and hazard mitigation, I analyzed several comprehensive plans in cities susceptible to some form of flooding. I discovered that the majority of comprehensive plans that included flood-related hazard mitigation experienced a catastrophic flooding event in the past, or has recurring floods. In response to these findings, I argue that cities should automatically include hazard mitigation within their comprehensive plans rather than including it retrospectively, only after a catastrophic hazard or recurring natural disaster arises.

I used two main sources of data for this research, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and FEMA’s designated Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) GIS data, to locate cities vulnerable to flooding. Using this data, I was able to locate all areas within the United States that have a high chance of flooding. To limit the large pool of regions with SFHAs, I created specific qualifiers to better analyze the cities of inquiry. For example, the pool was limited to large urban cities that contain an SFHA, wherein a large urban city was defined as a city with a population of at least 400,000 and a population density of at least 5,500 per square mile. Only ten large urban cities within the United States fit these qualifications. In addition, to guarantee the research would consider varying city types, I located suburban and rural regions near each large urban city that also contain SFHAs. Suburbs, for the purposes of this research, were considered regions directly adjacent to the aforementioned large urban city’s boundaries, and rural regions were considered counties within the same state of the large urban cities with a population of 15,000 or less.

I then located the large urban cities’, suburban cities’, and rural counties’ comprehensive plans to determine if any form of flood-related hazard mitigation was included in the document. I separated the results by large urban city, suburb, and rural county, and recorded each mention of hazard mitigation by creating a chart with two columns labeled “yes” and “no.” Once all comprehensive plans were located and analyzed, I separated the results by state and discovered which states had the highest and lowest percentage of flood-related hazard mitigation discussion in their comprehensive plans. To narrow down common reasons for this topic’s inclusion in the plans, I separated the top three and lower two states and further analyzed their comprehensive plans.

I discovered that the strongest contributing factor for the inclusion of hazard mitigation for both states with a high percentage and low percentage of flood-related hazard mitigation discussion in comprehensive plans was past unfavorable experiences with flooding within their jurisdictions.



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