Link to: ReadinessLink to: ResponseLink to: Recovery


Disaster readiness is the ability to prepare and plan for, and help absorb, recover from or more successfully adapt to adverse events. The best way to avoid loss of life or property is to be prepared before a natural disaster hits. It is never too early for a community to prepare, and it is up to important players like local government and nonprofits to develop clear plans of action. Whether your region is prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, or flooding, there are steps that you as an organization can take right now to make you and your communities more resilient to disasters.

Readiness starts at the local level with planners, developers and municipal leaders who review and consider what they will do in terms of permitting or zoning and demolition in the aftermath of a natural disasters. Local government can be prepared by instituting stricter building codes that protect structures and reduce insurance and long-term costs. It can also help to elevate buildings away from bodies of water to gird them against flooding, construct buildings with impact resistant windows to avoid damage from hurricane-force winds, and keep defensible space around buildings to stop wildfires from spreading. In addition, zoning can be used to prevent new residences from being placed in disaster-prone areas. Well-enforced building codes can mitigate financial losses and property damage expenses.1

Above all, it is the responsibility of community groups and nonprofits to proactively plan for their own organizations. As leaders in your rural communities, you know the challenges that come with remote geographies and low populations. As you look towards being more disaster resilient, it is important that you are proactive about building your internal resources and your networks with local and statewide coalitions to ensure you are adequately prepared in the event a disaster hits.

Jim Garrett, Acting Individual Assistance Officer, Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, covers the phases of a disaster event, introduces new terminology, and shares how local housing groups can be a partner in disaster recovery work.

Is Your Organization Ready for a Disaster?

HAC’s Guide to Building a More Resilient Organization

Emergencies can happen at any time to any organization. They can range from natural disasters to loss of crucial staff, damage to computer systems, and business interruption. Organizations in rural areas are at a disadvantage because these areas tend to lack infrastructure and adequate communication systems, have limited first responders and municipal staff, and have inadequate accessible and affordable housing for displaced families and individuals.

Is your organization ready for a disaster? Download HAC’s guide to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery and start building a more resilient organization.

Planning Resources

  • HUD Community Resilience Toolkit

    This toolkit (50 pg) is designed to assist communities in enhancing their resilience to climate-related natural hazard risks. It offers resources that housing and community development professionals can use to identify climate-related natural hazard risks, consider actions to enhance the resilience of housing, infrastructure, and residents to those hazards, and implement resilience actions using HUD funds and other innovative financing options.

  • Disaster Guidebook

    This guidebook (111 pg) from the California Coalition for Rural Housing is intended as a primer on the current state of disaster issues for affordable housing practitioners and a means of familiarizing disaster planners with the innovations coming forward in the affordable housing sector. It includes resources, case studies from housing nonprofits, and recommendations for rural housing developers; local government; state government; philanthropic partners; and federal government.

  • Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies

    This website provides resources and training to nonprofits to prepare for disasters. The disability and disaster hotline (800-626-4959) provides information, referrals, guidance, technical assistance and resources to people with disabilities, their families, allies, organizations assisting disaster impacted individuals with disabilities and others seeking assistance with immediate and urgent disaster-related needs.

  • "But Next Time" Report

    This report (75 pgs) from Texas Appleseed, in collaboration with disaster survivors and community nonprofits, offers ways to address immediate humanitarian needs and advance long term structural change and equitable recovery, including recommendations for federal reform.

  • Resilient Rebuilding Techniques

    This site from the Disaster Justice Network offers repair approaches that are intended to  protect homes from future rain, wind, or floods.

  • Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities

    This program from FEMA supports states, local communities, tribes, and territories as they undertake hazard mitigation projects, reducing the risks they face from disasters and natural hazards. It supports communities through capability- and capacity-building; encouraging and enabling innovation; promoting partnerships; enabling large projects; maintaining flexibility; and providing consistency.


    The Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds can be used to carry out strategic and high-impact activities to mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses. The website provides program information such as notices, requirements, and best practices in one place.

  • Taking Stock Mapping Tool

    This tool from NLIHC helps you search for properties and neighborhoods that may be more vulnerable to natural hazards to develop mitigation strategies.

  • OnTheMap for Emergency Management

    This application tool from the Census provides reports containing detailed workforce, population, and housing characteristics for hurricanes, floods, wildfires, winter storms, and federal disaster declaration areas.

  • Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition

    This coalition from NLIHC is made up of more than 850 national, state, and local organizations, including many working directly with disaster-impacted communities and with first-hand experience recovering after disasters. Join their weekly call.

  • Census Preparedness

    This page on the Census website offers news, resources, and data tools for emergency planning, preparedness, and recovery efforts.

  • Disaster Safety

    This website from the Insurance Institute of Business & Home Safety provides resources for preparing for a multitude of climate events, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and winter weather.

Paradise Lost: Impacts Extend Beyond the Disaster Area

A northern California wildfire offers lessons learned.

By Karl Ory

Last November 8, sparks from a utility line were fanned into a firestorm that engulfed 153,000 acres and burned 13,000 houses in the communities of Paradise, Concow, Magalia and Butte Creek Canyon in Butte County, CA. It was the state’s largest disaster since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Residents fled, but 85 didn’t make it. As the smoke covered northern California for weeks, residents of Sacramento and San Francisco donned masks and breathed Paradise smoke.


Disaster preparedness starts with you! Local organizations are the backbone of a community, and so making sure your organization is disaster-ready is an important first step. These resources provide instructions on how to create an emergency plan, back-up your organization’s data and files, and conduct self-assessment of your organization’s disaster preparedness.


Doing a self-assessment of your organization’s disaster preparedness is the first step to readiness. This means taking stock of your organization’s deficiencies and needs and creating an action plan to fill in those gaps. The following resource is meant to get you started; feel free to use the template provided, or create your own.

  • Rural LISC prepared a self-assessment curriculum for assessing any organizational vulnerabilities you may have and for looking ahead with long-term planning.
Prepare Your Finances

Managing your organization’s finances is a critical step in disaster preparedness. The Small Business Administration and the Internal Revenue Service both provide useful guides for managing your budget, protecting key financial documents, and itemizing valuables in preparation for a disaster.

  • SBA Business Guide – Smart planning can help you keep your business running if disaster strikes. You’ll want to take the right steps to prevent and prepare for disaster, and know where to get aid if disaster strikes.
  • IRS Taxpayer and Business Guide – Planning what to do in case of a disaster is an important part of being prepared. The Internal Revenue Service encourages taxpayers to safeguard their records. Some simple steps can help taxpayers and businesses protect financial and tax records in case of disasters.
Protect Your Data

When a disaster hits, you want to make sure your organization’s data and files are protected. It’s a good idea to keep a hard drive copy of important documents, but we also recommend backing up your files to the cloud.

  • Tech Soup Disaster Planning and Recovery – Whether it’s an earthquake, wildfire, hurricane, or human-caused calamity, a disaster can seriously impact your organization’s operations. “The Resilient Organization,” developed with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, is a holistic guide to IT disaster planning and recovery.

Risk Models can Improve Rural Disaster Preparation

Wildfire and flooding impacts can be minimized using risk models.

By Howard A. Kunst

Most areas across the country are subject to one or more natural catastrophe perils and rural areas are no exception. Flood, wildfire, hail and wind can and do affect these communities and result in devastating property damage and tragic loss of life, especially if a community and its residents are unprepared.

Build Your Network

The smaller populations of rural areas necessitates building strong networks to collaborate and coordinate across sectors and organizations. As an organization, you can also help your community prepare by building your organizational network and keeping in mind cultural dynamics and power differentials to ensure all community members are served equitably.2 Developing these networks of support before a natural disaster hits makes it possible to plan proactively and be more efficient in the aftermath.3 Use the resources below as a checklist to ensure your community is involved with your local VOAD or COAD and that they have a community disaster plan in place.


Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) are networks of organizations at the state and county level with the capacity to help communities prepare for or respond to natural disasters. The following are resources for organizations interested in getting in touch with or becoming part of their local VOAD/COAD movement.

  • Becoming a Member VOAD – National VOAD membership is an act of cooperation that provides your organization with communication tools to collaborate with 100+ other National VOAD members on disaster relief coordination.
Community Disaster Plans

Having a disaster guide for your organization is important, but you also want to make sure the community has a plan in place. Start by checking whether your regional or local planning commission has already created a community disaster plan, or use the templates provided to create one.

  • Community Preparedness Toolkit ( – The Community Preparedness Toolkit provides step-by-step directions along with useful resources for making your community, safer, more resilient, and better prepared. The Community Preparedness Toolkit can be used to develop a community-based approach to preparedness, such as a Citizen Corps Council. Citizen Corps is FEMA’s grassroots strategy to bring together government and community leaders to involve citizens in all-hazards emergency preparedness and readiness.
  • Municipal Disaster Planning Checklist (MD) – This guide from the state of Maryland includes checklists, best practices, and links to additional resources.
  • Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for Local Governments (FEMA) – This guide is a step-by-step discussion of the planning process that introduces principles underlying preparedness and recovery planning, describes topics to be considered as part of the planning process, and identifies specific organization-building and planning activities.
Disaster Committee

Create a disaster committee to jumpstart conversations between community stakeholders about disaster preparedness. A disaster committee could be a means to share resources or exchange knowledge, and it could also be an opportunity to get residents involved in prepping their community for a disaster.

  • Citizen Corps (FEMA) – The Guide for Local Officials provides an overview of the Citizen Corps program, and its partner programs (CERT, Fire Corps, Medical Reserve Corps, USAonWatch, and Volunteers in Police Service). The guide provides tips for putting together a local Citizen Corps program.
  • Community Emergency Response Team (FEMA) – The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.
Social Media

Many community-based organizations use social media to keep in touch with community members. Social media outlets can be used to inform the public about your disaster preparedness resources, or to share critical information if your community experiences a natural disaster.

Iowa Flooding Shows Links between Disaster Recovery and Rural Housing

Increased capacity and investment can help make disaster recovery successful.

By Representative Cindy Axne

During March 2019 in Iowa and the Great Plains, record snowfall and freezing temperatures clogged waterways with ice. Rapid warming from March 12 to 14, along with rain from a “bomb cyclone” that swept across the Midwest, led to massive flooding and devastation along the Missouri River, including southwest Iowa. Towns like Hamburg and Pacific Junction were entirely underwater.


Emergencies can happen at any time to any organization.
Is your organization prepared to respond?

Rural Resilience was made possible in part by support from Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo Logo

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