Natural Hazard Mitigation Association
Doing More with Less:
Mitigation in a Changing Environment
2012 International Hazard Mitigation Practitioners Workshop
July 17-18, 2012
Omni Interlocken Resort
Broomfield, Colorado

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Session Title: Track 1: Mitigation Challenges – The Promises and Pitfalls of Encouraging the Adoption of Higher Mitigation Standards

Date/Time:     Wednesday July 18, 2012           10:15 – 11:30 a.m.


  • Cynthia Palmer, Workshop Planning Committee Member, NHMA


  • Gavin Smith, Executive Director, Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence – Coastal Hazards Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill


  • Laura M.  Herbert, Lead Mitigation Planner, Florida Division of Emergency Management
  • John Ingargiola, Senior Engineer, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Janiele Maffei, Chief Mitigation Officer, California Earthquake Authority


  • Judy Sears, Community Liaison, Regional Training Institute – Community Emergency Preparedness, Office of Extended Education, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA.


Gavin Smith, moderator, opened by describing the intent of this session as an opportunity to explore how we can more effectively encourage the adoption of higher standards of mitigation planning.  He gave a brief overview of a six-year federal plan-quality analysis study being conducted as a follow-up assessment to the Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA) of 2000.  He said the study evaluates state and local mitigation plans that have been written in response to the DMA, asking if the DMA has been successful in promoting development of improved plans.  Focusing on the land use planning dimension, Dr.  Smith said the study explores how plans are being implemented, what are the processes of monitoring progress over time, assessing inter-organizational coordination including government, non-profits and other public stakeholders to address risk reduction, and asks who is being included in the planning processes.  He reported that over-all results in the study are disconcerting, particularly which specific groups of stakeholders are actively involved in the planning process.  He said the participation dimension, on a zero-to-ten scale, after assessing one hundred seventy-five (175) hazard plans, was rated at five.

Gavin Smith also reported disappointing assessment scores for risk and vulnerability, explaining that vulnerability planning has focused more on critical public facilities and less on the environment and social vulnerability.  He also suggested that the assessments of capability and the development of programs and polices meant to help reduce risk, which are not required by the DMA, were disappointing as well.  He said they lead to the consideration of including capability building as a plan requirement in the future.  He noted the subject plans generally did not look at broader topics such as resilience or sustainability.  He also suggested the majority of the plans assessed by UNC seem to have been developed looking backwards at vulnerable structures rather than forward to future development placement in relation to hazards.  He said the reviewers found there was little monitoring of progress using indicators was adequately developed to measure what specific objectives for mitigation have been accomplished.  Dr.  Smith said one of the lowest scoring assessments was that of inter-organizational coordination between different actors in the community (score of two out of ten) suggesting a serious lack of nexus between the fact base and policies, and between plans and effective mitigation.  He reported that the study suggests that if a plan is weak in one of its dimensions it may have a cascading effect, weakening the entire plan.  He stated that the interconnectivity of a plan’s components is critical to its success.


Following this overview of challenges to comprehensive and effective mitigation planning, Gavin Smith introduced Laura Herbert, lead mitigation planner for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  Ms. Herbert shared Florida’s planning specific to hurricane mitigation, which in turn could be applied to other hazards and in other locations across the country.  She said that while mitigation planning presents many pitfalls, there are also many solutions.

Ms. Herbert said one major pitfall for communities to adequately plan mitigation that addresses risks is lack of resources, both in staff and money.  She suggested that by thinking creatively, state players can assist communities in ways other than simply handing out money; by attending their meetings, helping them to write grant applications and working with them to discover partnerships that can help move them towards effective risk reduction.  She explained that Florida’s Post Disaster Redevelopment Planning (PDRP) is such a vehicle that allows communities to look at how they want to redevelop to avoid repetitive damage, and the PDRP helps to integrate all local land use plans to eliminate redundancy of effort and discover gaps.  She added that another mitigation effort by the state of Florida—27P22 of the Florida Administrative Code—requires each community to report annually how it wants its mitigation funds spent.  Ms. Herbert said this keeps communities in touch with their mitigation planning process on a year-to-year basis, and in addition, interns developed monitoring and documentation strategies for communities to help them more easily gather pertinent information annually for the five-year cycle of federally mandated reporting.  She said Flood Resistance Standards have been integrated into Florida’s Building Codes and are applicable to other types of hazards


The second speaker, Janiele Maffei, is a structural engineer and Chief Mitigation Officer with the California Earthquake Authority (CEA).  She observed that in some cases, rather than higher mitigation standards there is the question of having any mitigation standards at all, giving the example of standards for new buildings but few for pre-existing buildings.  She stated that definitions of standard performance levels include a spectrum from life safety, meaning occupants are able to safely leave a building following an earthquake, all the way to when the building may again be safely occupied, and in between, standards to establish feasibility of safely sheltering in place for residential structures.  Ms. Maffei stated that it is also necessary that the standards of mitigation be consistent with the means through which communities may receive financial incentives.

Ms. Maffei explained the levels of government at which the standards are set, specifically that the executive branch makes most decisions regarding earthquakes.  She said the 1977 National Earthquakes Hazard Reductions Plan was last renewed in 2004, severely limiting earthquake mitigation dollars flowing from the federal government.  She described California arrangements in which the state, CalEMA, CalTrans, California Water Authority, California Earthquake Authority, counties, multi-county organizations, municipalities, public and private agencies are each responsible for pieces of the planning, policy and implementation of mitigation standards.  She added that the CEA uses its funding to create a culture of seismic awareness, integrating multiple disciplines in mitigation to get around the earthquake risk versus political risk dichotomy.


The final speaker, John Ingargiola, Senior Engineer at FEMA, addressed the concept of higher mitigation standards for floods and tornados.  He argued that questions in the debate of the feasibility and effectiveness of the most appropriate hazard provisions for development have already been answered at the national level through an ongoing, comprehensive dialogue including a wide range of stakeholders in the development of the Consensus Codes and Standards (CCS), drawn principally  from the International Residential Code, the International Building Code and the referenced standard ASCE 24 for Flood Resistant Design and Construction, inclusive of considerations for regional adaptability and affordability.  He stated that flood hazards in CCS already exceed the 40-year-old minimum NFIP criteria.  He said CCS contains more specific requirements and some higher standards that have resulted from the lessons learned and forensic studies of building performance following major disasters.  He added that if local jurisdictions have higher minimum flood levels than designated in the CCS, then the local designations take precedence in concert with other minimums as designated in the national code, such as the height of utilities, use of fill, and the nature of materials used.  He said a more complete list of the specific and higher CCS flood provisions can be found at .  Mr. Ingargiola explained that while the CCS standards are no less stringent than the minimum NFIP criteria, they may not address every local situation in the floodplain and therefore communities are advised to follow the most stringent criteria available.  As to whether communities using the national CCS for flood regulations, he reported a recent evaluation conducted by FEMA showing over 50% of communities with flood hazards have adopted these CCS requirements, up from 34% in 2008.

Regarding tornados, Mr. Ingargiola stated that over 20,000 residential safe rooms and 1,300 community safe rooms have been constructed since 2001 using FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance funds to meet the design and construction criteria in FEMA 320 and FEMA 361.  He said many of these safe rooms have saved lives and continue to do so in actual events.  He reported that the next edition of CCS coming out in 2015 will require all new K-12 schools and first responder facilities to have safe rooms. He said this results from FEMA’s proposal being approved by the International Building Code Committee at its Code Hearing in May 2012.

Mr. Ingargiola concluded by emphasizing widespread code improvements, saying “These are not your father’s codes my friends.”  He proposed that NHMA members and all organizations work together to educate each other and move toward adopting and using CCS requirements which provide the public the minimum protections necessary against natural hazards in the US.

3 Q/A

The discussion that followed the panelists’ presentations included comments on the influence of forensic analysis following disasters, potentially leading to litigation if building codes are not being followed.  Another observer said post-disaster reports seem to suggest that enforcement of codes is relatively lax.  Ms. Maffei responded by saying California’s earthquake codes are quite stringent.  In response to a question asking if compliance with codes had any payoff in reducing cost of hazard insurance, Ms. Herbert said there are benefits for wind mitigation in Florida, and Ms. Maffei added in California there are insurance benefits for seismic mitigation.  Mr. Ingargiola noted the CRS program already rewards communities enforcing CCS with points that can lower the cost of flood insurance in the community.   An observer said the rate of non-compliance with codes in Louisiana tended to negate getting insurance at all.

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