Voluntary Regional Planning Approach Builds Stronger Partnerships


In the mid-1990s, North Carolina was a leader in mitigation planning. In 1996, the state created a Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative. This grew outreach, training and funding support for North Carolina’s local planning efforts. This marked a milestone for North Carolina’s efforts to improve planning in its local jurisdictions.

Following the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, the state signed Senate Bill 300 in 2001 to bolster local mitigation planning. This bill now required local governments to have an approved hazard mitigation plan to get certain kinds of disaster funding under the state’s Public Assistance program as well as FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs. Communities needed to create local mitigation plans at the jurisdiction level. For some communities, this was hard. Smaller, rural jurisdictions had few resources. It was hard to review, update, and implement a quality plan every five years.

Resources were spread thin; many jurisdictions developed their own plans for their community. There were 100 counties containing about 550 municipalities. Planning funds and technical assistance for communities were limited. By 2005, the state had to manage 168 local plans. North Carolina needed a new approach to local mitigation planning. It needed to reduce the burden on the state and its communities.


In 2005, North Carolina Emergency Management developed an approach to improve the quality of local plans. It also increased the spread of federal funding for plan development. The state started working with local governments to roll local mitigation plans into multi-county regional plans. By fostering partnerships across county lines, The state aimed to reduce the number of grants to manage while increasing resources and technical assistance to the local level. This reduced the burden on communities and the state itself.

Over time, single jurisdictional plans decreased. Each of the 100 counties now takes part in one of 30 planning areas: 27 regional and three county plans. All of the municipalities in the state are included in these 30 planning areas. The state is still building on its 2005 initiative to give communities better planning support and access to FEMA funding.

When North Carolina first encouraged regional plans, counties organized themselves with partners they chose. This led to strong partnerships based on:

  • Geography
  • Hazard exposure
  • Pre-existing agreements

They formed regions based on these partnerships. The regions align with the state’s risk profile:

  • Coastal plain in the east
  • Appalachian Mountains in the west
  • A mix of rural and urban landscapes in central North Carolina

The initiative was voluntary; larger entities helped smaller communities. Most communities in the state are now fully represented in a hazard mitigation plan. The state saw this shift within just a few plan update cycles.

These partnerships boost coordination when communities apply for mitigation and resilience funding. This really helps rural and underserved communities. They still have few resources and staff to apply for funding to plan and implement mitigation actions. For most, having a plan that lays out a strategy with associated funding sources has been key to boosting resiliency. Most of the multi-jurisdictional local mitigation plans now have a similar organizational format for the plan sections. This makes the state review more efficient and faster, reducing burden on the state staff.

At first, funding for local jurisdictions only covered some of the cost to develop a local mitigation plan. With the 2005 initiative, the state saved more as plans were developed at the regional level. The cost to develop one regional plan was about the same as a single jurisdiction plan. With more jurisdictions taking part in one multi-jurisdictional regional plan, grant funds could be dispersed to more communities.

This has let the state provide more training and technical assistance. It can help develop forward-thinking mitigation strategies. One area of technical assistance is the risk assessment part of the mitigation plan. This is where data are collected and assessed. It is the basis of the plan; it requires time and resources. To help with this process, the state worked with specialists in floodplain mapping. They created the Risk Management Tool. The tool draws statewide data and manages them in one place. It has given communities a “one-stop shop” for data and analyses of major hazards for the risk assessment part of their plans. The tool gives communities the means to download, store and analyze data. This helps save time and money.

The tool must export each community’s risk assessment into a hazard mitigation plan template. This helps streamline the process between analyzing data and writing the plan. The tool standardizes the data and assessment. Communities that use the tool have a comparable risk assessment made that uses the same approach. This makes plan reviews consistent.  During reviews, the state can then fairly score project proposals. It still seeks to improve the tool using feedback from local officials. The success in regional planning is a result of the state’s efforts to help community planning efforts.

North Carolina has bolstered community planning throughout the state. It helps local jurisdictions form partnerships and share resources. For the next plan update cycle, the state is reaching out to several non-traditional partners. These include quasi-state agencies and new not-for-profit organizations. North Carolina Emergency Management can provide more technical assistance to rural communities. They can build capacity and help larger jurisdictions to strengthen and sustain their mitigation programs.

Key Takeaways

North Carolina’s strategy is meant to ease the planning process and financial burden for local communities. At the same time, the goal is to improve the quality of planning. The state continues to develop more tools and resources for technical assistance.

  1. Regional collaboration builds strong partnerships. Communities formed regional partnerships in ways that worked best for them. This has led to strong partnerships across the state. It has given communities a network of resources. Creating partnerships based on geography and hazard risk has helped communities make stronger mitigation plans. That said, when planning districts combine into larger geographies for plan development and adoption, smaller jurisdictions must be engaged. They must fully understand the plan updates and own the process.
  2. Regional planning creates chances to support very small or rural communities. Regional partnerships group larger communities with smaller ones that may not have many resources. This is key for rural and underserved communities that rely on their partners. Partnerships help more communities develop and carry out mitigation projects. These reduce their community’s risk.
  3. Regional planning spreads finite funding and staff resources. Regional partnerships streamline the state’s role in mitigation planning. They also help communities that are most in need to develop joint mitigation plans, a requirement for funding eligibility. With fewer plans to review, the state can expand its technical planning assistance to communities.

Related Documents and Links

An approved hazard mitigation plan that has been adopted by each jurisdiction is also required for certain kinds of funding from FEMA hazard mitigation grants including the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, and Rehabilitation Of High Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program.

To learn more about mitigation planning and funding, review Mitigation Planning and Grants

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