Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 12 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Researcher: Jessica Roberts

The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience

This past year has been, in a word, disastrous. Wildfires burned a record-number of four million acres across California. Phoenix set a record for extreme heat with more than 144 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Midwest experienced the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The east coast experienced so many hurricanes that forecasters ran out of Latin alphabet letters to name them all. And, of course, all these events occurred in the context of an even larger and more deadly disaster: COVID-19.

As we continue to rebuild and recover from these disasters, it is important to remember that they can, and likely will, happen again. As climate change accelerates, the frequency and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes, extreme heat, drought, wildfire, and flooding will likely increase. As temperatures and flooding increase, so too may the transmission of vector-borne diseases, such as the Zika virus and West Nile virus.

In 2000, Congress recognized that mitigating the negative impacts of natural hazards begins with a plan. To encourage pre-disaster planning, Congress enacted the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA). This Act provides funding and technical assistance to state and local governments, often contingent on whether these entities develop a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan (HMP). This requirement has led to a proliferation of local HMPs throughout the country, each addressing the hazards that the locality is most vulnerable to and proposing innovative strategies to reduce such vulnerability.

Every local, FEMA-approved, HMP includes an assessment of the “type, location and extent of all natural hazards that can affect the jurisdiction.” Natural hazards are defined as including any “source of harm or difficulty created by a meteorological, environmental, or geological event.” Such events can include floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, landslides, and even pandemics.  Since many of these hazards are intricately tied to climate change, some HMPs go a step further by assessing how climate change impacts the community’s resilience and disaster readiness. Local governments then use these assessments to craft innovative strategies that mitigate hazards within the locality.

While these strategies vary widely, many draw on traditional land use planning and regulatory techniques. These include comprehensive planning and zoning, as well as the imposition of site plan, building, and vegetation requirements. To illustrate, HMPs may call for implementing an overlay zone that maps where floods, wildfires, or landslides are most likely to occur. Within this zone, HMPs may call for specific development standards that mitigate the impact of natural disasters, such as impervious surface coverage, vegetation, and site layout requirements. HMPs may also require the local government to incorporate the HMP’s goals, objectives, and strategies into the comprehensive plan so that subsequent zoning is in conformance with it, ensuring that the locality guides future development in a way that promotes resiliency and disaster readiness.

The next blog in this series will explore these strategies more in-depth, showcasing how local governments have utilized HMPs to mitigate natural hazards, prepare for climate change, and promote public health.


  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic