Increasing the nation's resilience to natural and human-caused disasters will require complementary federal policies and locally driven actions that center on a national vision, says a new report from the National Academies. Improving resilience should be seen as a long-term process, but it can be coordinated around measurable short-term goals that will allow communities to better prepare and plan for, withstand, recover from and adapt to adverse events.

Read the complete report here.

"Without innovations to improve resilience, the cost of disasters will continue to rise both in absolute dollar amounts and in losses to social, cultural and environmental systems in each community," says Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the Univ. of South Carolina and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Enhancing our resilience to disasters is imperative for the stability, progress and well-being of the nation."

Improving resilience is not the responsibility of any one federal agency, nor can it be encapsulated in a single policy, the report says. Rather, functions of government at all levels should be guided by a set of principles and best practices that advance resilience. The committee found gaps in resilience policies and programs among federal agencies and noted that resilience is diminished by ineffective coordination of roles and responsibilities. The report calls for federal agencies to perform self-assessments of their programs and activities and share their analyses of key resilience programs with the public. The executive branch should develop a clear national vision and framework for a comprehensive strategy toward improving disaster resilience, which can be tailored by regions, states and cities for their specific needs and priorities.

Although local conditions vary across the country, the report identifies universal steps that all communities can take to improve their disaster resilience. Adopting and enforcing building codes and standards appropriate to existing local hazards and implementing risk-based pricing for property insurance would both achieve results. The report adds that risk-reduction measures should combine tangible actions, such as building dams and levees and reinforcing critical structures, along with other efforts that include zoning laws, land-use planning and communication strategies. Long-term investments to improve resilience will need to come from both the public and private sectors.

To help communities assess resilience and track improvements, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local partners and professional groups, should develop a national resilience scorecard, the report says. The scorecard should be adaptable to focus specifically on the hazards that threaten each community and should measure the ability of critical infrastructures to withstand and recover from impacts of earthquakes, floods, severe storms, or other disasters, as well as rate social factors such as language and special needs related to minority status, mobility, or health that enhance or limit a community's recovery. Although some numerical basis for assessment is necessary to monitor improvement, the scorecard should not attempt unreasonable precision in its measurements of individual factors, the committee says.

Strengthening resilience of individual communities and the nation will require more consistent hazard and risk assessments supported by centrally available disaster loss data. The report recommends the development of a publicly accessible national repository that documents disaster-related injuries, loss of life, property loss and impacts on economic activity. The data would allow communities to make informed decisions about investments as well as serve as a basis for biennial status reports on the nation's resilience.

An event slated for October 2012 in Washington, D.C., will launch broader discussion and implementation of the committee's recommendations. Other regional events around the country are planned for 2013 and will include participants from all levels of government, community and nonprofit organizations, the private sector, research community and the public.

The study was sponsored by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, NASA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Community and Regional Resilience Institute.