Post-Disaster Planning

The ReImagina Puerto Rico (RePR) project’s objective is to generate a series of recommendations that cope with immediate needs and guide long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. These initiatives will foster to maximize investment and funding opportunities from federal, local and philanthropic sources. As RePR’s name suggests, the recommendations will be framed using a resiliency lens, which centers on the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. Despite the strategic alignment with Federal and philanthropic efforts, a key aspect must be made clear: the recommendations to be put forth by RePR do not constitute a long-term recovery and reconstruction plan, nor is RePR a substitute for a robust, post disaster planning effort.

What is a Post-Disaster Recovery Plan?

Given the extent of the damage resulting from disastrous events, planning for recovery must be broad in scope and range. As such, a post-disaster recovery plan provides a detailed roadmap for (1) short-term and intermediate disaster management and response, (2) intermediate and long-term reconstruction, as well as (3) preparedness efforts for future disasters and shocks. FEMA’s NDRF includes a graphic representation of the recovery continuum that helps us visualize the major stages of disaster planning efforts.

Figure 1: NDRF’s recovery continuum. Edited from page 8 of the first edition of the NDRF (2011).


As such, a post-disaster recovery plan must include the following:

  1. A set of resiliency goals to be attained;
  2. A clear layout of roles and responsibilities across government and non-government actors;
  3. A timeline and schedule of all works and activities to be performed throughout the recovery continuum;
  4. Clear channels of communication and participation for government and non-government actors, including the public at large;
  5. Funding sources and allocation for all recovery works and activities; and
  6. A monitoring process and evaluation criteria to determine the success of the implemented measures.

RePR’s efforts will be instrumental in defining the resiliency goals, the distribution of roles and responsibilities, and the scope of work for the post-disaster recovery planning process. But the remaining elements of a post-disaster recovery plan mentioned above will fall outside the preview of the Project.

What are the steps involved in post-disaster recovery planning?

Both the American Planning Association (APA)[1] and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)[2] provide frameworks that delineate the process of post-disaster recovery planning with a resiliency focus. Although the nomenclature and the description varies somewhat between APA and NIST, the processes described by both are easily reconcilable. Taking into account both frameworks, the post-disaster recovery planning sequence can be summarized as follows:

  1. Process initiation:
    • Establish the collaborative planning team, leadership, and stakeholders
  2. Organize public participation:
    • Create pathways and communications channels for stakeholder outreach and engagement to receive input throughout the planning process
  3. Establish the state of affairs:
    • Conduct research and analysis
    • Assess hazards, risks, and impacts
    • Understand the situation in terms of social dimensions and the built environment, and how these affect each other
  4. Determine goals and objectives
    • Define long-term resiliency and performance goals
  5. Plan development
    • Prepare plan elements
    • Identify gaps and link to other plans and policies
    • Develop implementation strategy
  6. Plan implementation
    • Execute approved solutions
    • Evaluate and update as necessary

RePR’s recommendations will provide the basic inputs to carry out the first four steps in the planning process. However, more comprehensive participation from varied stakeholders, and more robust research and analytical efforts will be needed to facilitate collaborative responses and insert the needed technical precision that the process and the plan require.

Where does RePR fit in a post-disaster recovery effort?

Neither the formal planning process nor the RePR efforts constitute activities that take place during the initial response phase. Response activities typically include emergency management and aid delivery, among others, and are the main elements in the immediate and short-term timeline (See Figure 2).

Recovery planning is first conducted at the beginning of the first recovery phase, with the recovery plan developed afterwards and implemented in the subsequent stages. The RePR, therefore, can be instrumental in the organizing stage of the recovery planning process. In sum, the RePR process can serve as an important stepping stone towards a set post-disaster recovery planning actions needed in Puerto Rico.


Figure 2: Post-disaster recovery phases. Edited from: Schwab, J. (Ed.). (2014).
Planning for post-disaster recovery: Next generation. American Planning Association



Approaches to Planning and Opportunities

RePR is currently working on developing resilient reconstruction recommendations for Puerto Rico, which will inform a long-term, post-disaster planning effort. Although at present there is no official government process for developing a comprehensive post-disaster plan, there are currently various initiatives underway that are geared towards integrating reconstruction projects for the island. As such, rather than following a centralized, command and control approach, post-disaster recovery planning in Puerto Rico will in all likelihood be a fragmented, “messier” affair. This Project Memo will describe some general approaches and considerations in post-disaster recovery planning, how these are currently playing out in Puerto Rico, and possible opportunities for RePR to be instrumental in this aspect.

Approaches and important considerations in post-disaster recovery planning

In the previous Project Memo (dated January 17, 2018), we defined a post-disaster recovery plan as a “detailed roadmap for (1) short-term and intermediate disaster management and response, (2) intermediate and long-term reconstruction, as well as (3) preparedness efforts for future disasters and shocks”. There are several strategies behind the production of a post-disaster recovery plan, but two of the most common are: producing a standalone plan, or devising a plan that is effectively embedded within an existing community or municipal plan.

Developing a standalone plan is probably the most effective option, since it is easier to monitor, revise, implement, and requires the least amount of coordination. However, having an integrated plan, or a plan that seeks to envelop recovery elements into other plans, can help identify more resources for implementation and broaden the set of tools available to cover a larger set of issues. It also provides an opportunity to liaison with other recovery and reconstruction efforts that can have shared goals and strategies.

Nonetheless, selecting an approach to plan development is only part of the initial considerations in post-disaster recovery planning. How planning is carried out, particularly in a post-disaster context, is also important, since it will likely determine the type of plan to be developed (i.e. standalone plan or integrated plan or plans). Three general typologies of post-disaster planning can be identified, these are:

  1. Decentralized planning: This process consists of parallel planning efforts happening at multiple institutions and levels. A common framework is usually employed across agencies or organizations that carry out post-disaster planning.
  1. Centralized planning through increased institutional capacity: This is a more command and control process, where key agencies or organizations are afforded greater planning and decision-making resources.
  1. Iterative planning: An iterative process occurs when agencies or organizations perform a constant feedback process of constantly evaluating and adjusting plans as relevant information is acquired. This could happen within agencies where initial actions and decisions move ahead quickly, or across different agencies and stakeholders that are addressing a common issue and constantly deliberating.

During the stages of relief and early recovery, trying to develop a standalone and all-inclusive recovery plan will likely be very difficult and costly, both economically and politically. In a post-disaster context, it is likely that there will be moments where more than one, if not all, types of planning processes will need to take place at different stages. A planning process that allows for continuity, flexibility, adaptation, and balancing will likely yield the greater benefits in the future.

Ensuring that post-disaster plans remain flexible and can be adopted for implementation must account for the following:

  1. Committed and good-standing leadership;
  2. Engaged collaboration across stakeholders;
  3. Broad opportunities for public involvement;
  4. Institutional capabilities in terms of staffing and scope of work; and
  5. Adequate funding.

Current situation of post-disaster recovery planning in Puerto Rico

As a way to control all projects and funding pertaining to recovery and reconstruction, and facilitate federal oversight and reporting, the Governor of Puerto Rico created the Puerto Rico Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3). As a sub unit within the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnership Authority (P3A), the COR3 is tasked with designating and prioritizing all recovery and reconstruction works, as well as overseeing all contractual processes pertaining to these projects. Exactly how recovery and reconstruction projects will be prioritized and selected is unknown at this time.

The COR3, however, is not entirely aligned with the Federal Government’s approach to recovery funds disbursement.  As of today, the Federal Senate is considering the House Resolution 4667 (HR 4667), which pertains to disaster funding for the United States. Section 1208 of HR 4667 details the requirements for disaster funding disbursement in the wake of hurricane María. In order for Puerto Rico to receive disaster relief funds, the Government of Puerto Rico must prepare and submit to Congress a 12- and 24-month economic and disaster recovery plan within the first 180 days after HR 4667 is signed into law. Such a plan must address vulnerabilities from future extreme weather events, promote accountability and public outreach, and be certified by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board prior to submission.

In meetings between the CNE Advisory Team and FEMA’s Community Planning and Capacity Building staff—who lead the Recovery Support Functions under the National Disaster and Recovery Framework— Federal officers confirmed that their response team anticipates Congressional approval of the 180-day plan requirement. Although local government officers are aware of the legislative mandates, the Federal response team has been struggling to coordinate its efforts towards developing the 180-day plan in conjunction with the Government of Puerto Rico. Coordination problems have delayed the completion of the damage assessment and have led Federal officers to liaise with municipal governments to define conduct relevant assessments and provide requisite technical assistance.

Outside the government sphere, there are multiple initiatives currently underway from academic, community, and philanthropic organizations that seek to improve the recovery and reconstruction efforts. Many of these initiatives have established links to FEMA’s Recovery Support Functions, but others are carrying out parallel projects.

What this organizational and government landscape shows is that there are simultaneous planning and coordination efforts taking place that are loosely linked. While the Government of Puerto Rico seems to prefer increasing planning and decision-making capacity to develop a standalone plan through a centralized office, the Federal Government would likely impose an iterative planning process that will yield another standalone plan approved by the Oversight Board. FEMA’s current planning process to develop the 180-day plan is taking place through a decentralized approach with the other Federal agencies, but following a common planning framework. This shows that, as described previously, post-disaster recovery planning in Puerto Rico will proceed through the adoption of several simultaneous approaches.

Possible path forward for RePR

The Government of Puerto Rico’s proposal of a centralized recovery and reconstruction office is at odds with the Federal Government’s requirements for disaster recovery funding disbursement. As it stands, the 180-day plan requires a clear framework that identifies recovery priorities and promotes accountability and public outreach. As currently designed, the central office proposal does neither.

The recommendations that RePR will advance, can aid in the process of defining a recovery framework and priority items for the reconstruction and recovery phases. Given the extensive efforts underway to convene experts and voices across the social, economic, and political spectrum, as well as the liaison initiatives underway, RePR will lay the groundwork for a public outreach process. Thus, RePR efforts can help lead the way towards meeting the requirements set forth by the Federal Government.

Given the decentralized and iterative process that will probably define post-disaster planning in Puerto Rico, RePR can be instrumental in identifying and providing: committed and good-standing leadership, engaged collaboration across stakeholders, and provide the means for broad public involvement.

[1] Schwab, J. (Ed.). (2014). Planning for post-disaster recovery: Next generation. American Planning Association.

[2] Cauffman, S. A. (2015). Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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