What you need to know about new FEMA funding for community resilience

A new Federal Emergency Management Agency-run program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, will provide millions of dollars to cash-strapped local and state governments and federally recognized Indian tribes for projects that build resilience to protect people and property before the next disaster.

FEMA has $500 million available for BRIC projects, with $20 million set aside for federally recognized tribes. The agency will accept applications from September 30, 2020 to January 29, 2021 and requires a current FEMA-approved Hazard Mitigation Plan for eligibility.

Here are three lessons to consider as you develop your BRIC proposal.

1. Engage communities in project development and decision-making

After Hurricane Michael caused widespread damage in the Florida panhandle, Mexico Beach, Florida partnered with FEMA and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a vision for nature-based stormwater management and urban design rooted in community engagement and outreach.

The effort brought together stakeholders and planners to collaboratively develop six implementation-ready projects that leveraged existing conditions to reduce flood risk while simultaneously creating open space and improving recreation.

The proposal received $2.7 million in funding from FEMA and included wetland parks, stormwater retention ponds and other natural infrastructure features within the city.

FEMA’s Mitigation Action Portfolio [PDF] provides examples of innovative projects that previously received funding.

2. Utilize nature-based solutions to help protect infrastructure

Hoboken, New Jersey proposed a new city park for recreation and stormwater retention. To ensure the park would fit the needs of the community, the city underwent an extensive community engagement process, including a survey, public events and meetings, and a community-design charrette.

The park’s combination of gray and natural infrastructure provides recreation and public space alongside stormwater management, with an underground tank and filtration system that will house and cycle one million gallons of rainwater. The project broke ground in 2019 and will be the largest park in Hoboken when completed.

After back-to-back, 500-year storm events that caused millions of dollars in property damage, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio collaborated with FEMA and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to purchase and demolish four homes that had experienced repetitive flood losses. The resulting open space created a 24,000-square-foot municipal rain garden reserve that drains more than three acres and can hold and filter up to 30,000 gallons of water.

Ten years after the storms that initiated the rain garden, another storm caused widespread damage across the city, but the neighborhood with the rain garden wasn’t impacted. Smaller communities could adapt this scalable solution to mitigate severe rainfall events.

FEMA’s guide for using nature-based solutions [PDF] to build community resilience is a great resource to consult in developing your proposal.

3. Build innovative and collaborative partnerships to leverage non-federal funding

The Green Stormwater Park in Houston, Texas transformed a 200-acre golf course into a public green space and flood retention area that reduces flood risk for approximately 30,000 people living within half a mile of the park, in addition to multiple community facilities and business in the area.

The first phase of the project protected an estimated 150 homes from flooding during Hurricane Harvey. Phase two, completed in January 2020, brought the project to 200 million gallons of stormwater retention capacity. When complete, the project will hold up to 500 million gallons of water, including in restored wetland areas, and will provide recreational facilities and social benefits to the people, businesses and community facilities around the park.

The project is a collaborative effort across seven different local organizations, including research institutions, conservation nonprofits, the Clear Lake City Water Authority and the Texas Coastal Watershed Program. Together, they have spent roughly $30 million for the project.

While not an exhaustive list, the projects above match BRIC criteria for balancing natural and human-made features to reduce risk while also providing recreational, economic and community benefits. Projects that incorporate modern building codes and protect community lifelines —critical water, energy and communications services, and human health and safety — are also strong candidate projects for the BRIC program.

Investing in pre-disaster mitigation saves money and lives. FEMA’s new BRIC program can provide ongoing federal support to states, local communities and tribes to invest in the planning and projects necessary to address growing climate risks. The unprecedented threats posed by climate-fueled floods, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts will require collaboration, creativity and community-based efforts.

Now is the time to build tomorrow’s resilience. The FEMA BRIC program can help communities do just that.

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