TNC and FEMA

How do we increase climate resilience in ways that work for people and nature?

Resort on coast in Hawaii with coral reef. © Chad Wiggins | TNC

FEMA: A Powerful Partner for Climate Resilience and Conservation

By Tamaki Bieri and Alyssa Mann

In the U.S., the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for responding to natural disasters -- like floods and wildfires -- and providing technical and financial hazard mitigation support. This support is primarily distributed as grant funding through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) programs.

FEMA spends billions of dollars on hazard mitigation assistance to communities to reduce or eliminate long-term risk, and has recently begun placing much greater emphasis on proactive investments before disasters occur. The 2018 Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which passed in Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, significantly increased the amount of funding available annually for pre-disaster mitigation.

FEMA seeks cost-effective solutions to mitigate disaster costs and impacts now and into the future. Nature-based solutions (NBS) utilize natural features and processes to promote resilience and adaptation. NBS for hazard mitigation support coastal resilience via the critical socioecological co-benefits associated with natural ecosystems. FEMA has steadily shifted many of its policies to better support the implementation of NBS.

FEMA hazard mitigation grants can address nature-based solutions to help reduce risk of catastrophic wildfires. © Ben Jiang /TNC Photo Contest 2019

FEMA and TNC share an interest in maximizing and facilitating the use of expanded mitigation dollars for nature-based strategies.

In June of 2019, TNC California formally partnered with FEMA Region 9 to develop resources to help communities navigate FEMA programs and advance projects that incorporate nature-based solutions and natural infrastructure to reduce hazard risk and to expand the use of FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding to support these strategies.

See all TNC-FEMA reports and Related Products below. 

Case Study: The Promise of Coral Reef Restoration

Climate change poses severe threats to coastal communities and the ecosystems on which they depend. Warming ocean temperatures increase the magnitude and frequency of storm events and cause back-to-back coral bleaching events, allowing less time for recovery amidst these threats. Coral reef ecosystems in the United States support fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection. The complex and stable structure of coral reefs protects against natural hazards by reducing wave energy. However, as reefs degrade, their effectiveness decreases. There is a clear need for active hazard mitigation actions to retain the critical ecosystem services of coral reefs.

The complex and stable structure of coral reefs protects against coastal flooding by reducing wave energy by 97%. Traditionally, active coral restoration aims to return coral reef ecosystems to a thriving state, with the goal of increased species and genetic diversity. The same methods can be used to serve as a robust hazard mitigation strategy in the form of coral reef restoration for risk reduction (CR4). CR4 aims to increase the structural integrity and complexity of coral reef ecosystems to attenuate wave energy and reduce coastal flooding.

Applying our Science

To advance these efforts, TNC and partners assessed the feasibility of accessing federal hazard mitigation dollars for CR4 by selecting a U.S. coral jurisdiction within FEMA Region 9. For the study, they evaluated the technical feasibility, community buy-in, and cost-effectiveness of CR4 projects at 15 sites on Maui, analyzed the flood reduction benefits of coral reefs using FEMA’s Flood Assessment Structure Tool (FAST), and conducted a preliminary benefit-cost analysis.    

The preliminary results show that CR4 is a cost-effective hazard mitigation strategy. However, the lack of rigorous National Structure Inventory (NSI) data will be a limiting factor for several jurisdictions, and there is need for stronger alignment between hazard mitigation and coral management priorities for the coral jurisdictions in FEMA Region 9. Further, coral restoration operations will need to establish CR4 best practices and techniques. Finally, unanticipated or unallowable project costs may limit the term and scale of future projects, and cost share requirement can be cost prohibitive, especially for lower resourced communities. 

Partnerships like this with FEMA allow us to move closer to our shared interest in maximizing and facilitating the use of expanded mitigation dollars for nature-based strategies. Partners on this study included the Coastal Science and Policy Program at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC), and Radbridge LLC (formerly Earth Economics).  View the full report, appendix, key takeaways and Maui case study.  


Related Products

2022 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

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Environmental & Historic Preservation Primer for Nature-Based Hazard Mitigation

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Unlocking FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Funding for Coral Reef Restoration: A Feasibility Study in Maui, Hawaii

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Climate change poses severe threats to coastal communities and the ecosystems on which they depend. Warming ocean temperatures increase the magnitude and frequency of storm and coral bleaching events, allowing less time for recovery amidst these threats. Coral reefs complex and stable structure protects against…

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The Guidebook for FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grants: Promoting Nature-Based Mitigation Through FEMA Mitigation Grants

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With increase in devasting storms and wildfires due to climate change, we need solutions to help mitigate the impact. Traditionally, “gray” or “hard” infrastructure solutions that rely on engineering projects using concrete and steel have dominated efforts to manage risk and mitigate hazard impacts…

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The United States operates thousands of military installations in the U.S. and worldwide, worth about $1.2 trillion. These facilities are where personnel train and test weaponry, with the specific aim of ensuring the nation’s security. With climate change, coastal installations are now being impacted by rising sea levels, erosion and…

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