Post-Disaster Recovery Guide for Planners

By Alexsandra Gomez, David Morley, AICP



Cities, towns, and counties are responsible for planning and managing their own recovery following a disaster. While planners seldom lead local recovery efforts, they have a distinct skillset that aligns well with core goal of recovery: helping the community reach a physical and functional condition that is as good or better than it was pre-disaster.

The purpose of this guide is to assist local planners who work for, or provide services to, a city, town, or county that has recently experienced a natural disaster. Planners in these communities are eager to apply their knowledge and expertise to short-term recovery efforts, but often struggle to prioritize their actions or connect those actions to a larger recovery framework.

The guide contains five related, but semi-independent, modules designed to help planners support the development and implementation of an interim recovery strategy in advance of a long-term community recovery plan. Each module includes numerous references to resources that provide supporting information or more extensive guidance in one or more areas. The guide concludes with a supplemental glossary to clarify the intended meaning of specialized terms.

This material is based upon work supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), through its Cooperating Technical Partners (CTP) program.

Background Research

In 2019, APA partnered with researchers at Texas A&M University to develop a research methodology to identify what types of guidance planners need to effectively influence recovery from catastrophic flooding and other natural disasters. The project team conducted in-depth phone interviews with experienced disaster recovery professionals and an online survey of APA's membership. Their findings are available in the following reports.

Disaster Recovery Guidance: Executive Summary

This executive summary contains the major findings from the overall research project, including the quantitative findings from the responses of 196 survey participants and the qualitative findings from 33 in-depth interviews with experienced disaster recovery professionals.

Get the Report

Disaster Recovery Guidance: Qualitative Interview Report

This report presents qualitative findings from 33 in-depth interviews with experienced disaster recovery professionals.

Get the Report

Disaster Recovery Guidance: Quantitative Survey Report

This report presents quantitative findings from the responses of 196 survey participants.

Get the Report


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 28, 2021
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Alexsandra Gomez
Alexsandra Gomez is a policy analyst at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Her work is primarily in the Safe and Complete Streets program. She formerly worked as a research associate at the American Planning Association, where she supported sponsored and strategic research projects and write for APA publications. She has a background in cultural geography and anthropology and applies these disciplines to planning research and practice. Her research interests include urban political ecology, geographies of power, and equitable community-led development.

David Morley, AICP
David Morley, AICP, is a Research Program and QA Manager at the American Planning Association in Chicago, where he manages and contributes to sponsored research projects; manages the development of the Research KnowledgeBase; develops, organizes, and participates in educational sessions and workshops; and writes for APA publications. Mr. Morley also edits Zoning Practice.

Table of Contents

Module 1: Preparing for Recovery
Identifying the Planner’s Role in Recovery
Characterizing Damage and Disruption
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 2: Accessing Recovery Assistance
Understanding Recovery Support Functions
Finding Assistance for Recovery Projects
Connecting Community Members to Assistance
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 3: Using Existing Plans To Guide Recovery
Reviewing Existing Plans
Setting Interim Goals and Objectives
Identifying Critical Action Priorities
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 4: Supporting Recovery Management
Sustaining Collaborative Relationships
Developing a Community Engagement Strategy
Evaluating Proposed Projects
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 5: Reducing Future Risk
Understanding Emerging Themes in Recovery
Updating Plans, Regulations, and Programs
Key Takeaways
References and Resources