Community Disaster Resilience Zones receive support and opportunity through new federal directive

October 25, 2023

FEMA designates areas most vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change impacts

Designations stem from congressional directive

Last month, FEMA declared the official designation of 483 community census tracts as Community Disaster Resilience Zones (CDRZ).

This action, directed by the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act of 2022, seeks to address the disproportionate impact of natural disasters and severe climate change effects on communities less prepared to handle such events.

By using a data-informed methodology, FEMA aims to identify and assist the communities most vulnerable to these threats.

Benefits for designated community disaster resilience zones

Communities that earn the CDRZ designation are eligible for augmented financial and technical support to execute resilience plans.

Specifically, they can access Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant funds with an enhanced federal cost share, up to 90% compared to the standard 75%.

Such designated communities are also prioritized to receive BRIC Direct Technical Assistance and Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) assistance for their BRIC project proposals.

Additionally, states and the District of Columbia can tap into a $2 million BRIC allocation for activities such as project planning, updating hazard mitigation plans, and adopting building codes.

For this grant cycle, FEMA allocates nearly 20% of the total BRIC funds, or $400,000 per state, for applications from these zones.

FEMA’s data-driven approach to designations

For its preliminary designations, FEMA combined information from its National Risk Index with the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool from the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

A community was designated as a CDRZ based on its composite National Risk Index ranking and identification as disadvantaged by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.

These initial designations will last for five years, with further announcements for Tribal and territorial designations expected later this year.

Feedback from stakeholder groups

Stakeholder feedback indicates strong support for the CDRZ initiative. The American Institute of Architects stated: “The American Institute of Architects commends FEMA for designating the first 483 Community Disaster Resilience Zones… AIA is proud to have worked with Congress to get the Community Disaster Resilience Zone Act passed.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) noted the significance of updating the National Risk Index and the importance of designating and assisting community disaster resilience zones.

Other organizations, such as the Geos Institute, the International Code Council, and the National Wildlife Federation, also expressed their support for FEMA’s efforts in implementing the CDRZ Act.

FSJA Comment

The establishment of Community Disaster Resilience Zones by FEMA is a proactive step toward preparing the nation for the ever-growing threat of natural disasters and the effects of climate change.

By directing vital resources and support to the communities most at risk, FEMA not only prioritizes immediate needs but also takes a long-term approach to resilience, ensuring a safer and more prepared future for countless Americans.

This designation and the resulting support is an investment in both our nation’s infrastructure and the safety and well-being of its residents.

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