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210 Pittsboro Street, Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-6210
(919) 962-2091   FAX: (919) 962-2279


Not for publication

May 4, 2000 -- No. 271

UNC-CH planners propose strategy for N.C.ís next natural disaster threats

A team of experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillís nationally renowned department of city and regional planning is calling for comprehensive state legislation to guide communities in their efforts to recover from and prepare for future hurricanes and other natural disasters. The professors say they hope their proposals will be considered in the General Assemblyís upcoming short session.

In a letter sent this week to Gov. Jim Hunt, the UNC-CH team proposes that the state:

Prohibit all development in floodways Ė the channel of floodwater flow Ė as well as practices such as construction of wastewater treatment plants, hog waste lagoons, junkyards and landfills within the 100-year floodplain. That floodplain represents areas in the state that face a 1 percent chance annually of being flooded, according to the professors.

Create a hazard mitigation trust fund available to all applicants who meet specified requirements. Communities could not draw funds from the trust unless they had an approved hazard mitigation plan in place. The professors did not recommend how large such a fund should be.

Require homeowners who currently live in the 100-year floodplain to have federal flood insurance or not be eligible for reimbursement from the trust fund.

The recommendations are aimed for use in local disaster recovery planning and in the allocation of funds for local long-range recovery and planning efforts, the professors say. "These measures will help to ensure that potential loss of life and property will be substantially reduced," the UNC-CH teamís policy document says. "They will also help to ensure that the state will not have to pay out huge sums of money over and over again to cover the costs of recovery."

UNC-CH team members are Dr. Philip R. Berke, associate professor; Dr. David Brower, professor; Dr. David Godschalk, Stephen Baxter professor; Dr. Edward Kaiser, professor, all in the department of city and regional planning, as well as doctoral students John Cooper, Richard Norton and David Salvesen. Last November the professors shared a related document dealing with short-term recovery in the hardest-hit floodplain areas and guidelines for local planning efforts. The latest later follows through on that communication as part of the groupís effort to share its expertise with the state as a public service.

Attached is the policy analysis document detailing the teamís ideas. It also outlines a general framework for the state to consider. To follow up, contact Berke, (919) 962-4765,; Brower, 962-4775,; Godschalk, a member of Huntís Smart Growth Commission, 962-5012,; or Kaiser, 962-4781,

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Contact: Mike McFarland, (919) 962-8593




Needs and Opportunities

Disasters unite and galvanize communities. Disasters can be a catalyst for change in the way we plan our communities. As the people of North Carolina work together to recover and rebuild after the tragic flooding of Hurricanes Floyd and Irene, the challenge at this time is especially timely. North Carolinians should be thinking about protecting lives and property from future disasters, in combination with local economic development strategies, improvements in public health, environmental protection, and historic preservation. The recent disaster makes it imperative that communities confront these issues in a comprehensive fashion.

North Carolina will not be able to move forward in its effort to protect its citizens from natural disasters without comprehensive hazard mitigation legislation. Any long-range recovery efforts will have to be based on comprehensive legislation. There is currently no state legislative guidance for communities to use in their efforts to recover and to reduce future hazard risks.


Reduce risks to citizenís lives and property posed by future disaster events..

Restore and protect the natural capacity of floodplains to prevent future disasters, improve public health, restore degraded ecosystems, and make communities more livable.

Make communities more attractive to business by increasing resiliency to hazards.

Preserve historic and cultural resources.

Needed Legislative Actions

We recommend three legislative actions:

The state should prohibit all development within the floodway Ė the channel of floodwater flow. The state should also prohibit certain practices within the 100-year floodplain, such as building of wastewater treatment plants, animal waste lagoons, junkyards, and landfills. For practices that are allowed in the 100-year floodplain, the applicant must first obtain a state permit to build a structure. The permit requirements should include standards for protection of public health and safety, protection of natural resources, and compatibility with a comprehensive hazard mitigation plan.

The state should set-up a Hazard Mitigation Trust Fund that would be available to all applicants that meet certain requirements. For a community to be eligible for reimbursement from the Trust Fund, it would have to have a hazard mitigation plan in place (see below the minimum criteria that plan must meet to gain state approval).

The state should require homeowners that currently live within the 100-year floodplain to have federal flood insurance, or not be eligible for reimbursement from the Trust Fund.

These measures will help to ensure that potential loss of life and property will be substantially reduced. They will also help to ensure that the state will not have to pay out huge sums of money over and over again to cover the costs of recovery.

Framework for Long-Range Planning

Local Recovery and Mitigation Plans

All local governments in the disaster impact region should prepare a local recovery and mitigation plan. These plans should be consistent with regional watershed management programs (see below).

The local plans should meet five sets of minimum criteria of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management:

Hazard identification and analysis: Identify hazards that affect the community, and prepare a multi-hazard map that shows the locations of flood-prone areas and locations that are vulnerable to the effects of other hazards.

Vulnerability assessment: Conduct an inventory of all critical facilities and assess the potential cost of damage to these facilities. Identify and map current and projected highly vulnerable facilities and populations, given expected trends if land use policies remain unchanged.

Community capability assessment: Inventory and evaluate the effectiveness of existing and proposed policies, programs, and ordinances that may influence the vulnerability of the community. Determine the communityís technical and fiscal capability to implement hazard mitigation initiatives.

Community goals: Identify local goals and objectives that both support and hinder hazard mitigation efforts. Determine the need for revising or creating new mitigation goals, such as increasing the supply of housing for relocation.

Mitigation strategy: Develop new or revised mitigation goals and policies, assign implementation responsibility, and a schedule of implementation actions. Mitigation strategies should draw on a range of tools available to communities, including, for example, land use and structural strengthening regulations and incentives, infrastructure design and location, property acquisition, and public education programs.

Regional Recovery and Mitigation Plans

Concurrent with preparation of local recovery and mitigation plans, regional mitigation and recovery plans should be prepared for the entire drainage area of major river basins. The focus of regional planning should be on regional mitigation and recovery issues.

The benefits of regional planning are:

Opens planning activities for a broader range of stakeholders than any single local government;

Develops a framework for integrating and coordinating regional flood mitigation and recovery efforts that reduces redundancy in provision of infrastructure through sharing of resources, and improves administrative efficiency;

Creates opportunities for innovative flood mitigation and recovery management alternatives that cross local jurisdictional boundaries.

The regional recovery and mitigation plan should include several elements:

A relocation element that focuses on regional relocation issues, notably housing, that may involve balancing the impacts of new growth in some communities and relocation of development from others;

A regional infrastructure element to promote an integrated and coordinated regional approach for cost-effective provision of water and sewage treatment, bridges, and roads and highways;

A regional redevelopment element to promote creation of contiguous open space networks along river and stream corridors.

A regional stormwater management element to coordinate local government efforts to reduce or prevent increased downstream runoff caused by upstream development;

An intergovernmental coordination element to ensure that local plans are consistent with regional plans.


Institutional Framework

Long term, North Carolinaís approach to achieving resilient communities must focus our institutions and communities on preventing property damage and social and economic disruption before disasters strike. Such policy should incorporate several key features. It would:

Create an accountable institutional system within and among state agencies to champion and coordinate state hazards policy and integrate that policy into ongoing programs and responsibilities. There is much that can be done at the secretarial level in utilizing existing authority and capability to address hazards more aggressively and to integrate hazard mitigation and recovery into executive branch policy and practice. In addition, there needs to be a state hazards council and someone on the Governorís team who is responsible for the hazard mitigation mission and who coordinates state agencies.

Institute issuance of a regular "at risk" report to the Governor, legislature, and the people of the state. Natural hazards pose high potential destruction, but from low probability events. Due to that inherent nature of risks from natural hazards, they have not received the attention they deserve from individual families and businesses or local and state government until after disaster strikes. In order to move hazard planning and mitigation to their appropriate priority on our agendas, all parties must better appreciate the risks and our approaches to them. That requires a better understanding of the risks and regular reminders to spur appropriate action.

Build a more holistic approach to hazards and disaster management at the state and local government levels. Such an approach:

Includes adequate attention to mitigation and other pre-disaster strategies, as well as emergency management and recovery planning;

Integrates the full scope of risk management approaches, including risk distribution among communities, as well as risk avoidance (donít build in hazardous areas in the first place) and risk reduction (reduce risk of existing development) approaches;

Integrates hazard mitigation with comprehensive land use and growth management, economic development, and environmental protection planning and policy-making;

Incorporates approaches to address existing vulnerable development as well as redevelopment and future new development; and

Incorporates a strong regional approach based on the geography of natural hazards and involving intergovernmental coordination. Thus local hazards planning would be required to account for neighboring jurisdictions and for regional interests.

Account for approaches to land use and growth management promoted by the Smart Growth Commission, Blue Ribbon Tax Policy Commission, and Farmland Preservation Commission

Systematically enhance local government commitment and capability to address the risks of natural hazards. State government will need to provide education, financing, and technical assistance to local governments, as well as provide incentives and requirements for sound hazards planning and management.