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Project aims to improve resilience through integrated planning

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How can making better mitigation practices part of the community planning process reduce long-term flooding?

For the past two years, NACo has been working with AECOM — a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructure assets — and the American Planning Association and the Association of State Floodplain Managers to explore ways to reduce the long-term impacts of flooding by better integrating mitigation planning into the larger community planning processes.

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NACo is releasing a survey Nov. 30 to examine county coastal management practices 

 If you are from a coastal county, NACo invites your participation

With support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the project team developed a model for integrating resilient hazard-mitigation planning, tools and methods into local comprehensive plans. In 2017, the team piloted this model in two coastal and riverine communities: San Luis Obispo County, California and Brevard County, Florida.

The integration strategy focused on identifying potential intersections between upcoming local plan updates, and then suggests how communities can work to align these processes to better integrate plans. For example, if a community has a local comprehensive plan update and a hazard mitigation plan update both scheduled for the coming year, it could identify the overlapping steps in each planning process where the two plans might be integrated.

The strategy outlines who should be at the table and provides a searchable database of technical models, tools and methods that help assess risk, including: flood risk, climate change and social vulnerability. The database also pinpoints key areas where the models, tools, and methods can be integrated into county planning processes. In addition to assisting local leaders in understanding the range of weather-related risks facing their county or region, the strategy also stresses the importance of being able to communicate those risks to different stakeholder groups. For comprehensive plans to be implemented successfully, it is critical for local elected officials and the community members they serve to be engaged throughout the planning process and onboard with the final approved plans.

One of the main strengths of the pilot workshops in San Luis Obispo and Brevard counties was the opportunity for networking across departments and between stakeholder groups. Megan Martin, supervising planner, San Luis Obispo, said “The biggest lesson on building resilience we pulled from the workshop here in San Luis Obispo County is the importance of networking, partnerships and cross-team and cross-sector communication. Since the workshop this spring, we have actively worked to establish deeper relationships with other county departments, local nonprofits and state and federal government agencies.”

As a result of their participation in this comprehensive planning effort, county staff members from the pilot communities have been trained on and provided with the tools to identify areas within their existing plans and processes where they can better coordinate to ensure consistency and integration of like goals across plans. Additionally, the workshop participants gained a better understanding of what critical decision-making tools and techniques are being utilized across their counties —and across the country. 

As NACo and its partners move forward refining the integration strategy and pilot workshop model, NACo — as part of its Resilient Counties Initiative — plans to offer additional resources, training and technical assistance to counties on how to increase their resilience to environmental, social, economic and physical challenges. This effort is bolstered by the new Strengthening Coastal County Resilience program, which includes the development of a web-based coastal management training guide and an in-person training program for coastal counties.

The guide will be piloted with counties in the Gulf of Mexico region to help them develop strategies and policies that will support a more resilient regional economy and better stewardship of natural assets. The first phase of the program started in October and will continue for the next year, with a competitive training workshop planned for fall 2018.

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