Planning prof presents hazard mitigation strategies in D.C.

Philip Berke

In the nation’s capital last November, congressional staff and members of the American Meteorological Society heard Phil Berke, Texas A&M professor of [urban planning] ( , present research-based strategies aimed at heightening communities’ ability to withstand and recover from natural disasters.

After a 2017 hurricane season that saw Harvey, Irma and Maria wreak havoc in wide swaths of the U.S., Berke and additional natural hazard experts were invited to speak at a November 16 briefing in a Senate conference room on Capitol Hill and at “A Reset for U.S. National Hazards Policy,” an AMS workshop the previous day.

In his presentations, Berke reported findings from his and additional research funded by the [Coastal Resilience Center] ( , a federally sponsored consortium of universities, companies, and public agencies focused on research, education and outreach addressing threats to coastal communities from natural hazards and climate change.

Berke told his audiences that:

  • Land use planning to reduce the impact of natural hazards is the most efficient cost/benefit mitigation strategy, but is the least used;
  • Plans created with parameters set by the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, which provides the legal basis for state and local hazard planning, are weak and underfunded;
  • Fragmented responsibilities among different agencies’ plans can create conflicts and actually increase hazard vulnerability, and
  • Land use plans often insure that disadvantaged populations live in hazardous areas, making their recovery more difficult.

He also presented a series of hazard-related policy recommendations, including:

  • Increased planning coordination at all government levels,
  • More incentives to create quality plans, and
  • More public input, especially from marginalized groups.

Berke headed a CRC-funded research project resulting in a scorecard that identifies hazard plan effectiveness. Additional CRC projects include developing accurate storm surge models, assisting federal agencies that aid state and regional planning agencies, and more.

A member of the Texas A&M urban planning faculty from 1987-94 and again since 2014, Berke’s research has revealed how cities’ environmental, social, and economic systems are affected by land use decisions and has made major contributions in natural hazard mitigation, urban land use planning, growth management, sustainable development and environmental planning and policy,

He also heads the university’s [Institute for Sustainable Communities] ( , which aims to translate its research findings into action and create high impact learning experiences for students.

Richard Nira

posted December 11, 2017