Shannon Van Zandt
Researchers at Texas A&M's Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center are investigating why the proliferation of hazard mitigation planning by local governmental agencies in disaster prone regions along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts has not significantly reduced their vulnerability.
Since 2000, the researchers note, a federal policy requiring state and local governments to adopt disaster plans in order to qualify for post-disaster assistance has significantly increased participation in hazard mitigation planning activities, but it "has not guaranteed the implementation of mitigation strategies and practices at the local level."
To shed light on what they have identified as a fundamental blind spot in hazard research — the factors influencing the adoption and implementation of local hazard mitigation polices — the HRRC research team is examining current coastal hazard mitigation practices and surveying key hazard planning officials from these coastal jurisdictions.
Leading the three-year, $440,000 study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is principal investigator Walter Gillis Peacock, HRRC director, with co-principal investigators Shannon Van Zandt, coordinator of the Master of Urban Planning program and Himanshu Grover ‘10, an assistant professor of urban planning at the University of Buffalo who earned a Ph.D. in urban and regional science at Texas A&M.
Seven hurricanes struck the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts between 1970-2009, ranking among the world’s 10 costliest natural disasters and resulting in 2,232 deaths and more than $164 billion in insured losses.
“Ironically," the HRRC scientists note in their study proposal, "these disasters occurred during a period of clear movement toward more hazard mitigation planning.”
Their investigation will build on existing studies showing that this growth in hazard planning at the local level, precipitated by federal grant funding requirements, has resulted in policies targeting emergency management rather than hazard mitigation, neglecting critical issues like natural resource protection and land-use planning.
While hazard mitigation planning indicates positive intentions on the part of community leaders, by assessing local planning practices, the HRRC study aims to close the gap between intentions and actions that actually mitigate coastal hazards.
More specifically, the researchers will assess factors related to policy implementation, examine the consistency of hazard mitigation actions at various jurisdictional levels, weigh the effectiveness of federal policies designed to improve hazard mitigation, and provide suggestions for improving these policies.