Natural Hazard Mitigation:

Various Mitigation Efforts Exist, but Federal Efforts Do Not Provide a Comprehensive Strategic Framework

GAO-07-403: Published: Aug 22, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2007.

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The nation has experienced vast losses from natural hazards. The potential for future events, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, demonstrates the importance of hazard mitigation--actions that reduce the long-term risks to life and property from natural hazard events. GAO was asked to examine (1) natural hazards that present a risk to life and property in the United States, areas that are most susceptible to them, factors that may be increasing these risks, and mitigation activities that reduce losses; (2) methods for encouraging and impediments to implementing mitigation activities; and (3) collaborative efforts of federal agencies and other stakeholders to promote mitigation. To address these objectives, GAO collected and analyzed hazard data, reviewed population information, conducted site visits to locations with comprehensive mitigation programs, and collected information from relevant agencies and officials.

Natural hazards present risks to life and property throughout the United States. Flooding is the most widespread and destructive of these, resulting in billions of dollars in property losses each year. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildland fires also pose significant risks in certain regions of the country. Tornadoes, landslides, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions can also occur in some areas. Population growth in hazard-prone areas, especially coastal areas, is increasing the nation's vulnerability to losses because more people and property are at risk. Climate change may also impact the frequency and severity of future natural hazard events. A variety of natural hazard mitigation activities exist, which are primarily implemented at the state and local level, and include hazard mitigation planning; strong building codes and design standards; and hazard control structures (e.g., levees). For example, strong building codes and design standards can make structures better able to withstand a hazard event and hazard control structures help protect existing at-risk areas. Public education, financial assistance, and insurance discounts can help encourage mitigation. For example, federal, state, and local governments provide financial assistance to promote mitigation and insurance discounts can encourage the use of mitigation measures. However, significant challenges exist to implementing natural hazard mitigation activities. Some of these challenges include the desire for local economic development--often in hazard-prone areas--which may conflict with long-term mitigation goals and the cost of mitigation may limit the amount of activities that occur. FEMA, other federal agencies, and nonfederal stakeholders have collaborated on natural hazard mitigation, but the current approach is fragmented and does not provide a comprehensive national strategic framework for mitigation. Collaboration typically occurs on a hazard-specific basis, after a disaster, or through informal methods. A comprehensive framework would help define common national goals, establish joint strategies, leverage resources, and assign responsibilities among stakeholders.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, in July 2011, FEMA stated that the recommendation has been addressed through actions including their National Preparedness Goal and the development of FEMA's Mitigation Framework, which is currently in the process of being reviewed and approved. For example, the National Preparedness Goal cites the importance of pre-mitigation efforts, stating that the ability of a community to accelerate the recovery process begins with its efforts in pre-disaster preparedness, including mitigation and planning for and building capacity for disaster recovery. These efforts result in resilient communities with an improved ability to withstand, respond to, and recover from disasters, which can significantly reduce recovery time and costs. The National Preparedness Goal also points out the significance of common mitigation goals and the responsibilities of state and local governments, which play lead roles in planning for and managing all aspects of their jurisdiction's recovery and ensuring that key community organizations and individuals in community leadership roles are included. Similarly, the National Mitigation Framework addresses how the nation will coordinate core mitigation capabilities to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. The Framework cites the importance of coordination and including the private sector, public sector, nonprofits, and individuals in mitigation efforts.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of FEMA, in consultation with other appropriate federal agencies, should develop and maintain a national comprehensive strategic framework for mitigation that incorporates both pre- and postdisaster mitigation efforts. The framework should include items such as common mitigation goals; performance measures and reporting requirements; the role of specific activities in the overall framework; and the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local agencies, and nongovernmental stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response: Federal Emergency Management Agency


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