The evolution of the federal role in supporting community recovery after U.S. disasters

Robert B. Olshansky, Laurie A. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: The process of long-term recovery, if done well, can minimize post-disaster disruption, address problems that existed before the disaster struck, and improve the future resilience of a community. The U.S. government, however, historically has lacked a systematic approach to supporting community recovery. This study describes the history of federal policies for supporting community recovery after disasters, with particular attention to the roles of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). We conclude by considering the new National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). This historical review suggests that the federal government needs to emphasize the following: providing resources for community recovery planning; facilitating increased flows of information after disasters; streamlining FEMA assistance to public agencies; explicitly working to reduce the barriers between FEMA and HUD; and incorporating equity into recovery policies. Recovery policies also need to include incentives to achieve substantive goals of rebuilding in a way that is sustainable, equitable, cost-effective, and timely, and that reduces the chances of future disasters.Takeaway for practice: Local community planners can draw several lessons from this historical account. First, they should become aware of the various post-disaster programs now, before disaster strikes. Second, knowledge of post-disaster policies and programs will enable planners to use them creatively and effectively if disaster strikes. Third, in the midst of reconstruction, planners need to continually seek opportunities to promote betterment and resilience to natural hazards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-304
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2014


  • communitylevel recovery
  • post-disaster recovery
  • recovery management
  • recovery planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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