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What is Disaster Resilient Infrastructure? Why is it Needed?

By GovPilot

The U.S has seen many devastating and historic natural disasters over the past decade, including the never-seen-before, 2023 snowstorms in California and the unrelenting, historic Canadian wildfires in 2023 that had lasting effects on the entire U.S. In the weeks and months following these disasters, local governments had to step up to rebuild their community and bounce back. Natural disasters like this rock communities and municipalities for years between fixing damaged infrastructure, helping now homeless constituents, and recovering government data.

We've all seen the images of an incapacitated New Orleans, Houston, and the New Jersey shore on the news following major disasters, but have we given much thought to how those local governments bounced back after such harrowing natural disasters?  

The unfortunate reality is that devastating and destructive natural disasters are occurring more often across the nation, and are now occurring in places with no prior history of disaster, that are unprepared and ill equipped to handle such fallout. 

To make matters worse, many communities have outdated infrastructure in need of repairs or retrofitting to protect them against extreme weather events. Antiquated infrastructure such as government buildings, power grids, and transport infrastructure can be destroyed or rendered inoperable in a matter of minutes due to these disasters.

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Modern disaster resilient infrastructure is designed to reduce the impact of a major event. But which kinds of resilient design architecture are relevant for your community? And how can your local government afford to implement expensive infrastructure updates municipality wide? 

Knowing which steps your community needs to take can be challenging, but coordination among all government departments / agencies will be necessary to make needed improvements. Follow along for important details in mitigating some of your community's vulnerability through physical infrastructure and digital emergency management software.

What is Disaster Resilient Infrastructure?

As the name implies, disaster resilient infrastructure includes vital buildings, public communal facilities, transit systems, telecommunications, and power systems that are strategically designed to withstand the impact of a natural disaster like a flood, earthquake, or wildfire. 

Communities building resilient infrastructure in their city or town need to analyze data to weigh risks  of potential natural disasters based on their geographic location, consider which architectural improvements will be most beneficial in their community, and organize a budget and timeline for implementing said improvements. 

Disaster resilient architecture is one of the pivotal aspects of government risk management and disaster preparedness

Why Climate Resilience?

Around the world, the impacts of climate change on public health, economies, transportation networks and other critical infrastructure assets are taking a major toll.The ability of infrastructure systems - many of which were built decades ago - to withstand flooding, fires, tornadoes, is fading fast.

Adaptation of old infrastructure and the construction of new resilient infrastructure is vital  in order for cities and communities to mitigate the natural hazards that the world will continue to encounter in the future. 

Learn about Promoting Sustainability In Local Government to reduce your communities impact on climate change. 

Federal Funding Towards Disaster Resilient Infrastructure 

To help local governments meet the growing challenges of natural disasters, the Biden administration announced a record injection of money designated to help communities guard against the effects of climate change back in 2021, totaling $3 billion in funds for community disaster resilience that continues to be distributed today. 

Now,  new FEMA funds from Washington are again being dedicated towards combating climate change — an additional $1 billion in grants for states to protect against floods, wildfires and other threats — marks a shift in United States disaster policy. Local governments should utilize these grant funds to improve the resiliency of infrastructure and prepare home and business owners via preparedness training. 

According to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, the goal of the new money is to get local and state officials to broaden their approach and put less emphasis on small-scale projects; instead putting the funds towards infrastructure that fortify entire communities rather than small-scale individual buildings. 

The explosion of new money and resources reflects the growing toll that climate change is putting on communities around the country.

Starting with a string of hurricanes and wildfires in 2017, the United States has suffered devastating disasters every year since: Roughly 3,500 wildfires have burned 28,700 acres this year in the U.S alone and tornado season was more destructive than usual, with the U.S recording 1,331 tornadoes in 2022. In 2022 disasters that struck the country each caused at least $175.2 billion in damage and economic losses.

Spending more money to protect homes and communities ahead of disasters, rather than after they happen, could reduce those costs, studies suggest. According to federal research, a dollar spent to prepare for disaster saves an average of $6 dollars later. Housing department software can assist in monitoring and protecting homes in your community from disasters. 

What Kind of Resilient Architecture Does Your Community Need?

Understanding infrastructure resilience is critical. A town in Kansas doesn’t need to worry about a hurricane, nor does a town on the West Coast need to worry about tornadoes. Where you are located determines which risks are most pressing for your community. Considering disaster risks is crucial when deciding what to prioritize in your resilient architecture strategy. 

Here are the top infrastructure considerations to apply based on which natural disasters pose the greatest risk for your community: 

Hurricane & Flood Resistant Structures

Flooding is one of the most dangerous and disastrous natural disasters that can occur because anywhere that rain falls can flood. Taking action to mitigate flood damage is imperative. 

The top resilient infrastructure strategies are as follows:

  • Consider relocating buildings in danger zones: if a building is located in a part of town that poses a serious flooding risk, or repeatedly floods, it may make sense to demolish the building and relocate in a safer part of town. If possible, you may be able to move the physical infrastructure elsewhere.
  • Update Building Codes: For new buildings, consider the risk of flooding when choosing a building site and update building codes so that new construction is built to Fortified Standards
  • Elevate houses and buildings: Elevation is a great - but expensive - preventative measure against flooding. Physical infrastructure can be raised and placed on stilts or elevated foundations above flood risk; this is a common solution for houses on the Jersey shore. 
  • Clear storm drains and sewer systems: Water backs up when it has nowhere to go. One of the most straightforward ways to ensure this doesn't occur is to regularly sweep drain and sewer systems for blockages that render drainage systems ineffective.
  • Utilize permeable Pavement: When an area gets paved over for roads, parking lots, sidewalks or new buildings, water that once would have easily been absorbed stays above ground and presents a flood risk. Permeable pavement allows water to flow through it and get absorbed by the soil beneath it, greatly reducing flood risk.
  • Build floodwalls in high-risk areas: if a critical building or neighborhood is surrounded by water that poses a flood risk, a permanent concrete or earthen barrier can be placed outside to prevent water from getting in.  
  • Install Hurricane Straps: Cheap, and highly effective, hurricane straps will greatly increase the chances that a structure's roof will remain attached to the building in a high-wind event. 
  • Prepare & Train Constituents: Provide free resources to your constituents from leading disaster recovery nonprofit, SBP to help them understand and mitigate their risk prior to disaster, and recovery efficiently should after.

Consider these tips for Government Flooding Mitigation & Disaster Planning.

Green Infrastructure

Runoff from stormwater continues to be a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. It carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants through storm sewers into local waterways. 

Historically, communities have used gray infrastructure—systems of gutters, pipes, and tunnels—to move stormwater away from where we live to treatment plants or straight to local water bodies. The gray infrastructure in many areas is aging, and its existing capacity to manage large volumes of stormwater is decreasing in areas across the country. 

To meet this challenge, many communities are installing green infrastructure systems to bolster their capacity to manage stormwater. By doing so, communities are becoming more resilient and achieving environmental, social and economic benefits.

Essentially, green infrastructure filters and absorbs stormwater where it falls, and can include:

  • Community Scale

    Plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable surfaces or substrates evaporate stormwater and reduce flows to sewer systems or to surface waters. Even rain barrels against a house store water that could otherwise contribute to a flood.
  • Urban Scale

    Neighborhood scale green infrastructure could include acres of open public outdoor space outside a city center, planting rain gardens or constructing a wetland near a residential housing complex as key components of your municipal planning

Green infrastructure elements can be woven into a community at several scales. Neighborhood scale green-infrastructure could include acres of open public space like parks outside a city center, planting rain gardens or constructing a wetland near a residential housing complex. At the landscape or watershed scale, examples could include protecting large open natural spaces, riparian areas, wetlands or greening steep hillsides. 

When green infrastructure systems are installed throughout a community, city or across a regional watershed, they can provide cleaner air and water as well as significant value for the community with flood protection, diverse habitat, and beautiful green spaces.

Consider these Modern Parks & Recreation Department Tips for more information. 

Tornado Resistant Structures

Tornados are extremely dangerous and cause billions of dollars in property loss each year. Prepare for them before they happen!

Resiliency measures against tornadoes include: 

  • Building to IBHS Fortified standards: this limits severe and catastrophic damage to buildings
  • Retrofit structures: this should be prioritized when building in your community as they provide roof straps that keep roofs detaching from structures
  • Utilize wind-resistant and projectile resistant materials: in new construction projects, ensure that the materials used are wind-resistant and appropriate to any natural disasters common in your area. 
  • Prepare & Train Constituents: Provide free resources to your constituents from leading disaster recovery nonprofit, SBP to help them understand and mitigate their risk prior to disaster, and recovery efficiently should after.

    Follow along for more helpful Government Tornado Mitigation & Disaster Planning Tips.

Landslide Resistant Structures

Landslides can easily destroy a building in a poor location or without the proper protection. 

Preventative government measures against landslides include:

  • Adding retaining walls: these walls made of concrete, metal, or wood can hold back soil to prevent landslides.
  • Using groundwater drainage systems: unstable slopes that oftentimes turn into landslides as a result of groundwater. Using draining structures like trench or surface drains will prevent the water from reaching the soil that poses a threat. 
  • Slope angle trimming: remove soil from the top of the slope to ensure that no debris will make its way down a hill.

Earthquake Resistant Structures

Without a proper foundation, antiquated infrastructure can collapse entirely as a result of an earthquake. That means your constituents are at risk of losing their lives and their homes. 

Here are ways that disaster resilient structures can protect your community from earthquake damage:

  • Build with flexible foundations: as explained by BigRentz, a, “building is constructed on top of flexible pads that isolate the foundation from the ground. When an earthquake hits, only the base moves while the structure remains steady.”
  • Build with structural steel: structural steel is designed to be bendable, meaning that even if an earthquake forces a building to shake, it won’t cause the material to snap like less durable materials might.  

Wildfire Resistant Structures 

Anywhere with dry brush and wooded areas needs to consider the risks that come with wildfires. Read GovPilot's Local Government Wildfire Mitigation Guide

Here are some intelligent ways to mitigate damage from a wildfire hitting your community:

  • Use brick when building new structures: brick is noncombustible and is one of the most fire resistant building materials.
  • Use class A roofing materials: FEMA recommends labels fire resistant roofing materials as “class A.” These roofing types include fiberglass shingles as well as concrete tiles.
  • Prepare & train constituents: Provide free resources to your constituents from leading disaster recovery nonprofit, SBP to help them understand and mitigate their risk prior to disaster, and recovery efficiently should after. 

Winter Storm Resistant Structures

Heavy snowfall can cause a terrible onslaught of problems for municipalities and the safety of residents. It is crucial to ensure your municipality has winter storm resilient infrastructure. 

Here are some ways to mitigate the risk and fallout of harsh winter storms: 

  • Ensure infrastructure is up to code: buildings, power lines, natural gas pipes, etc. could be easily damaged if they are not built to withstand extremely low temperatures. Be aware of what infrastructure needs to be up to code with code enforcement software
  • Form a community emergency response team: it is important to have  officials on deck to prepare ahead of storms and respond in the wake of an emergency for any community-members in distress. 
  • Have equipped emergency vehicles and drivers: A lack of transportation vehicles and inexperienced or unprepared emergency vehicle drivers makes response efforts confusing and often renders them useless. Asset acquisition and vehicle maintenance are essential to having these vehicles on the road when you need them. Learn more about forging a Modern Government Asset Management Strategy.
  • Prepare snow removal equipment: ensure that as the winter approaches, tools and snow removal equipment are ready and safe to be dispatched. 

Learn more about Local Government Winter Preparedness & Mitigation.  

Don’t Forget About Your Digital Infrastructure

Secure digital government IT infrastructure is as crucial for a community as having resilient physical infrastructure. Government IT technology should be resilient to natural risks as well as manmade cyber threats. 

In the event of a flood or fire, many municipalities that have not digitized automated processes through the government cloud are unfortunately left without critical data due to the loss of paper records or on-site servers. In order to prevent the loss of critical records and ensure business continuity and delivery of essential services, the best digital infrastructure to withstand a disaster is cloud-based government management software

Cloud-based government management software can also be used in the field by inspectors with GovInspect to confirm the safety, structural health, and code compliance of critical infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, and roads. 

Additionally with a government cloud platform, employees can work remotely if necessary, records and data are safe and  accessible at any time from any location, allowing government officials to focus on disaster relief and recovery efforts without the loss of records and data. 

Emergency Management Software is Here to Help

Emergency Management Department Software is vital to the disaster resilience in your municipality, and allows government officials to visualize critical information with GIS and collect data essential for resilience & recovery. This software makes it easier for local governments to form organized emergency management plans, first response teams, and prevent disastrous infrastructure fallout.

Emergency Management Department Software Solutions to Consider:

FEMA expense tracking allows local governments to track and report on individual expenses incurred both before and after disaster responses. These reports are then automatically organized and formatted for submission to FEMA for a government reimbursement. 

The Floodplain Development Permit application assists communities in evaluating impacts of activities like natural disasters. Residents are able to fill out an on-line application and inspections can be scheduled and recorded so the appropriate certificates can be automatically issued. 

Asset Management Software creates an administrative form allowing for the organization of tangible assets including physical objects such as buildings or equipment to be registered with the government. Registration creates a database for of these assets as well as the working condition of each for governmental review and tracking.

The GovPIlot GIS Map is a tool available to local governments that ensures customers can create their own layers of geographical and environmental data in their system, add shape files, do 200 ft searches, and add customized geo-searches as well to better track the environmental impact of natrual disasters. 

Report-a-Concern software offended by GovPilot gives residents the option to submit concerns either via an on-line form or the GovAlert mobile app. Once a concern is submitted to the local government, the concern is routed to the correct department for inspections, and code-violation reports. 

How Can Your Community Update Existing Infrastructure?

Updating infrastructure to be more disaster resilient is expensive, which is why many places have failed to update it due to lack of funds and government budget planning. Fortunately, even communities with formerly limited budgets can leverage new federal funding to take action. 

With the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Bill, state and local governments can spend funds on community improvements. That means your stimulus money can be spent directly on physical and digital infrastructure.

To learn more about how GovPilot can help to improve your digital infrastructure, which in turn can be used for disaster mitigation and response, schedule a consultation.


Resilient Infrastructure FAQ

1. What Are Disaster Resilient Structures?

Disaster resilient infrastructure is ,”physical and IT infrastructure designed to protect community buildings, roads, and technology in the case of a natural disaster.” Essentially, your infrastructure needs to be well designed to withstand any storm or flood that can wipe out valuable community infrastructure.

2. What Are Characteristics of a Disaster Resilient Community?

A disaster resilient community is one well-suited to respond to a crisis that might occur like a devastating flood or tornado. That means the local buildings are built with solid foundation materials, flood zones have storm drains and proper sewage systems, and that critical IT infrastructure is secured through the cloud.

3. What Are Safety Infrastructure Solutions?

The right infrastructure solutions to keep your community safe are dependent upon which natural disasters pose the largest threat. 

For your government IT infrastructure, the most safety oriented solution is cloud-based software. Physical servers can be destroyed from a flood or tornado, meaning your government data could be lost forever if not properly backed up. Check out GovPilot’s Cloud vs Servers guide to learn more.

Read more about How to Create a Local Government Safety Strategy

4. How to Plan for Building Infrastructure?

Take the time to consider which natural disasters pose the biggest risk to your community. Ensure you have a strong municipal public works strategy, consider flood zones when building new construction, and keep the materials you’re using in mind so that they can withstand any storm. 

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Tags: Government Efficiency, Digital Transformation, Blog, Emergency Management, American Rescue Plan