New Tool Helps Communities Plan for and Mitigate Disasters

To improve planning and coordination efforts across geographic regions, CRC launched the Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard (PIRS) website, a new resource that helps local government officials evaluate an area and sort out networks of plans to reduce hazard vulnerability and protect the economic, social, and environmental well-being of their communities. Developed by CRC with funding from S&T, the website offers a free guidebook that helps communities navigate the process of assessing and aligning their plans to maximize investments and reduce potential disaster impacts. 

PIRS helps communities evaluate and coordinate their networks of plans using a unique method of ‘spatial plan evaluation’ that looks explicitly at the spatial language in policies and their likely effects on hazard vulnerability,” said Dr. Siyu Yu of Texas A&M University, who co-leads the project with UNC-CH’s Dr. Phil Berke. The PIRS guidebook, which has been implemented in at least 10 U.S. communities to date, also identifies potential response shortfalls by layering multiple plans. 

The PIRS website is the culmination of years of work by the CRC research team, which has created a scorecard system for planners to ensure one plan doesn’t impede, prevent, or undo the work of another. PIRS is an approach that gathers numerous emergency plans and policies, as well as information on hazard zones and planning districts, then analyzes how these elements interact, down to the impacts on individual neighborhoods.

“Hazard mitigation planning tools are imperative as they can be used over time to help reduce risks and future losses,” said Rebecca Medina, director of S&T’s Office of University Programs.   

PIRS provides invaluable insights about planning priorities, promoting better collaboration, and determining which parts of a community are especially vulnerable to disasters. The scorecard can provide the motivation and information that local government officials and decision-makers need to better integrate their networks of plans. In addition, end users, including those from FEMA and individual communities, will find case studies, publications, and webinars to guide them in emergency planning and plan integration, as well as provide them with access to a PIRS course through the American Planning Association (APA).

Through key partnerships with APA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, PIRS has made a widespread impact beyond its original application to flooding. New applications focused on multi-hazard scenarios, including wildfires and urban heat, are demonstrating that the tool’s approach to plan integration can be more broadly adopted.

“We need to be preparing to adapt to the changes that are coming,” said Dr. Berke. “We will face drought, wildfire, mass migrations, and conflict. PIRS is one tool to help communities move in the direction of resilience.”

Using the right tools when preparing for natural disasters can lead to better coordination amongst coastal communities and may reduce a storm’s overall impact—lessening recovery time and creating safer communities. “An effective planning tool like the PIRS Scorecard helps emergency managers develop and deconflict response plans, paving the way for communities to recover quickly and ideally thrive in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” says Medina.

Learn more about PIRS from CRC’s short video overview, as well as an extended interview with Drs. Berke and Yu on the COE’s new podcast, Shoreside. For more information about CRC itself, see S&T’s CRC Fact Sheet. To learn more about the ADCIRC Prediction System, see S&T’s “Getting Ahead of the Storm Surge: ADCIRC Model Fact Sheet and Video.”