As climate change increases disaster risks across the country, emergency managers and government officials are beginning to implement strategies to build community resilience.
In December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released its Resources for Climate Resilience to provide a roadmap of programs and initiatives that advance community climate resilience. The document offers a description of available FEMA resources communities can use to plan for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against the adverse impacts of climate change.
Before a disaster, FEMA works with state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments to develop all hazard mitigation plans that address current and future risks, including possible impacts of climate change. In addition to planning support, FEMA provides tools and resources to inform communities’ specific planning priorities. Examples include data and risk analysis based on climate forecasting information, partnerships, training and exercise support, and annual programming funding used for addressing climate change adaptation. After a disaster, FEMA supports SLTT governments in recovering and rebuilding with resilience and reducing the impact of future disasters.
To promote resilience, FEMA developed the National Risk Index, offering information on an assortment of risks. Intended to promote efforts to increase resilience, the Risk Index contains authoritative data from multiple federal partners and received input from more than 55 partners across the public and private sectors including state, regional and local government agencies, academia, private organizations, and nonprofits. The Risk Index helps determine the U.S. communities most at risk for 18 natural hazards.
Flooding is one of the most common and costly disasters. In fact, floods are the number one natural disaster in the U.S. They happen in every state and are projected to get worse as a result of changes to our environment. Recent research found that sea level rise caused an estimated $8 billion in excess flood damage during Hurricane Sandy. FEMA’s The Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (Risk MAP) program provides quality flood hazard information that builds flood risk awareness leading to mitigation actions. Through an initiative known as the Future of Flood Risk Data (FFRD), FEMA is increasing Risk MAP’s capability to provide a more comprehensive and dynamic picture of the country’s flood hazards.
Through the National Flood Insurance Program, SLTT governments can apply for Flood Mitigation Assistance. Funds can be used for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings.
Wildfires have increased in frequency and magnitude in recent years, due in large part to the effects of climate change. Federal research reports that 46 million residences in 70,000 communities are at risk for wildland urban interface (WUI) fires. The WUI is the line, area, or zone where structures and other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels. Research additionally concluded that the WUI area continues to grow by approximately 2 million acres per year.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) works within FEMA on fire risk and response. USFA, in response to WUI and a number of growing climate concerns, has developed training opportunities through the USFA National Fire Academy, and through USFA’s National Fire Programs (NFP), collaborates with partners and communities to create Fire-Adapted Communities, and provides outreach materials and resources on USFA’s WUI website. USFA’s NFP addresses climate change impacts for all hazards, including the implications of green energy technology in community risk reduction programs, and impacts to firefighter and EMS responder health and safety.
FEMA is also in the process of updating the 2015 mitigation plan policy for state and territorial governments, State Mitigation Plan Review Guide, as well as the 2011 policy for local governments, Local Mitigation Plan Review Guide. As these policies are completed, FEMA plans to update existing fact sheets, bulletins, trainings, and related materials with information on various ways that SLTT governments can meet the planning requirements. This includes the development of mitigation actions that can be leveraged to adapt to climate change. All FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plans are required to include an overview of the probabilities of future hazard events.
Once a community has identified its climate risks and has created a mitigation plan to adapt to the emerging hazards, FEMA offers a number of annual program grants that build community resilience by funding specific mitigation activities. These programs are available to SLTT governments regularly each year through Notice of Funding Opportunities. In addition, FEMA offers a series of preparedness and capacity building services that can be engaged continuously and regularly throughout the year.
FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program for example provides annual grant funds to SLTT governments for hazard mitigation planning, mitigation projects, and building community capacity and capability. FEMA received a tremendous number of applications from across the nation during the FY2020 application period, evidencing strong interest in the types of projects it can support. As a result, the BRIC Program, under the Biden Administration, doubled to $1 Billion in FY2021.
FEMA’s Resources for Climate Resilience document also includes details of exercise programs and post-disasters assistance. It sits alongside FEMA’s recently updated strategic plan which targets the building of a climate-resilient nation.