Expanding the Role of Nature-Based Solutions in FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Programs: Lessons and Recommendations
Natural disasters and hazards are increasing in frequency and severity in the U.S., driven by climate change and other factors. Since 1980 the U.S. has experienced 332 weather- and climate-related disasters that exceeded $1 billion in damages, and the annual frequency of these events is trending upward. A 2021 study also calculated that since 1988, flooding has caused $73 billion in damages in the U.S. and approximately one third of that impact is due to changing precipitation patterns.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides billions of dollars to communities each year through its Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs, which are designed to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property. FEMA’s five HMA programs are the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA), HMGP Post-Fire, and Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM).
In recent years, FEMA’s total HMA spending has increased significantly, which is a function of the increased severity and frequency of presidentially declared disasters and congressional actions that have allocated more funds for hazard mitigation. FEMA increasingly recognizes and emphasizes the use of nature-based solutions (NBS) for building community resilience and mitigating the impacts of hazards such as flood, wildfire, drought, and more. NBS, as a standalone intervention or used in combination with traditional infrastructure, can be a cost-effective approach for hazard mitigation. In addition to hazard mitigation functions, NBS provide a range of social and environmental benefits such as clean air and water, open space for recreation, habitat, and climate mitigation via carbon sequestration and storage.
FEMA has made remarkable progress on policies and resources to support NBS in a relatively short period. However, the agency has not published data or trends on the number of received subapplications or awarded projects that incorporated NBS, and anecdotally it remains challenging for most subapplicants to successfully incorporate NBS into hazard mitigation subapplications.
The purpose of this report is to discuss broad areas of opportunity and specific recommendations that could further facilitate the inclusion of NBS within FEMA hazard mitigation projects, and shift the narrative around NBS from novel and risky to familiar and widely understood. Adoption of some or all of these recommendations will ultimately result in a greater number of cost-effective NBS projects that support equitable hazard mitigation outcomes, reduce risk to communities, save taxpayer dollars, and generate a range of desirable environmental and social benefits.
While the recommendations are primarily aimed at expanding FEMA’s investments in NBS, it is expected that many of the ideas, if pursued, could smooth processes and improve outcomes for a range of other hazard mitigation investments that FEMA supports, not just those that involve NBS.
- Update benefit-cost analysis policies, methods, and software to further reduce barriers to the use of nature-based solutions for hazard mitigation
- Increase technical and financial support provided to subapplicants, including economically disadvantaged communities and nontraditional partners
- Embed consideration of nature-based solutions into all areas of FEMA policy and practice