Community and Regional Planning

Flooding mitigation planning for a Nebraska community

From January to October 2020 the United States experienced 16 weather/climate events which resulted in more than $1 billion in damages each! In addition to the economic losses, these events were responsible for the loss of 188 lives, displaced thousands of Americans and pushed communities to their breaking point and sometimes beyond. The field of planning serves as the foundation for saving lives, protecting economic investments and building stronger more resilient communities. Hazard mitigation planning is one specific tool that can effectively address community vulnerabilities before disaster strikes, providing proactive strategies to reduce risk and identify opportunities for redundancy and increased capacity so that when the storm is raging, communities not only survive but thrive.

This semester a dozen students participated in CRPL 472/872 and discussed how to develop local hazard mitigation plans consistent with the requirements established in the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Hazard mitigation plans consist of a dynamic planning process, geared to the specific needs of the jurisdictions participating in the process. Throughout the development of the plan, local officials examine the risks their community faces as well as developing alternatives to reduce or eliminate those risks. Students reviewed hazard mitigation plans from jurisdictions across the United States, evaluating different plan elements, contrasting strengths and weaknesses of the different documents and working to understand how the plan authors met, or did not meet, the mandatory planning requirements. The goal of the course to impart both academic theory as well as practical experience to students. The course is divided into two sections, the first portion is focused on understanding the requirements as described. The second phase of the course is very practical, students are divided into teams and work collaboratively to develop elements of a hazard mitigation plan for a selected jurisdiction. The course culminates with each team presenting their plan to their peers, demonstrating both the content of the plan and how they navigated the heavily regulated planning requirements.

The learning objectives of the course are to understand planning requirements related to hazard mitigation planning, the interplay between different levels of government, the role stakeholders and stakeholder groups play in the planning process, and how to work collaboratively to deliver a planning document. This year CRPL 472/872 had two guest lecturers, first we were joined by John Gassmann. Gassmann is the State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). As the SHMO, he works with jurisdictions across the state in the development of local hazard mitigation plans, as well as being responsible for the Nebraska hazard mitigation plan. Jim Schwab, F-AICP also visited the class. Schwab is viewed by many as the original hazard mitigation planner, while employed at the American Planning Association, he established the Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Recovery Planning Division of the APA. Schwab shared insights with the class specific to the concept of integrating various municipal plans including comprehensive plans, watershed management plans, climate adaptation plans, etc., into the hazard mitigation planning process.

- Jeff Henson