Protecting the Whole Community in Portland, Oregon: Incorporating Social Equity and Equality


Oregon residents still remember the devastating 1948 Vanport flood, when 19,000 people were left homeless, disproportionately families of color. Recent planning efforts set out to ensure that history won’t repeat itself.

The 2012 “Portland Plan, a Strategic Roadmap for the City,” contains a vision for equity that all city bureaus and offices are responsible for pursuing. This vision required a fresh look at the “2010 Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan” to work toward a future where vulnerable populations do not carry disproportionate burdens when recovering from natural disasters. These vulnerabilities are understood more clearly and represented more fairly in the new plan’s mitigation actions.

About the Plan

Jurisdiction:  Portland, OR

Population:  4.25 million

Plan Type:  Single Jurisdiction

Approval Date:  September 2016

Expiration Date:  September 2021


Portland’s “2010 Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan” was updated and replaced by the “2016 Mitigation Action Plan (MAP)”. While updating this plan, the plan authors focused on incorporating community needs to advance the city’s overall vision for equity. The steering committee examined which hazard mitigation activities could also further other community goals by engaging a broad section of the community in the plan process, and by using an equity lens to evaluate all proposed mitigation actions. The MAP sought to build on other planning work; among the plans reviewed for this update project were the “2015 Climate Action Plan”, “Portland Plan”, “Public Health Plan”, “Capital Improvement Plan”, “Growth Management Plan”, “Transportation Systems Plan”, and various volcano-related interagency coordination plans. As part of the project, city bureaus were asked to identify codes, plans, and programs that provide opportunities for advancing shared goals, so these resources could be listed as mitigation actions in the MAP.

Outreach for the plan focused on historically underserved communities. The populations highlighted in the plan because they experience disproportionate risks included people under age 15 and over age 65, renters, people of color, people with disabilities, and households with limited English proficiency. The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) hired a subject matter expert to examine equity-related issues and provide training on disaster risk and equity to the entire steering committee. PBEM staff extended their outreach efforts to include several new planning partners, including the Office of Neighborhood Involvement Disability Program, Office of Equity and Human Rights, and Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. PBEM used a tool to prioritize mitigation projects and a systematic questionnaire to evaluate the benefits and burdens of each project – the equity lens.

Mitigation Best Practice - Mitigation Action Plan Summer Social - Portland, OR 2016-08-23

The mitigation actions in the 2016 plan address social and economic recovery and include ways to build the community’s capacity to recover (e.g., food independence projects, rain water collection systems, alternative energy sources). The planning team identified and recommended 70 actions related to plan integration. New opportunities for integration will be identified as part of the annual progress report.

Key Takeaways

This whole-community approach recognizes that equity is a key component in preventing and planning for natural disasters. The inspiring vision in Portland’s comprehensive plan played an instrumental role in integrating mitigation actions with planning issues related to social equity.

  • The steering committee was expanded during the 2016 plan update to include a broader representation from community groups, disability advocates, and communities of color.
  • Community members were engaged early in the planning process, before the plan’s goals, focus, and content were developed. This resulted in a deeper integration of community studies and plans and a more thorough vulnerability assessment.
  • Portland contracted with experts to help develop the equity lens.
  • New partnerships supported the broader conversation on equity, including the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Oregon Food Bank, and Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization.

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