The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Mitigation Grant Program

Incorporating Hazard Risk and Social Equity into Decisionmaking Processes

by Noreen Clancy, Melissa L. Finucane, Jordan R. Fischbach, David G. Groves, Debra Knopman, Karishma V. Patel, Lloyd Dixon

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Research Questions

  1. What natural hazard risk considerations should inform BRIC grant decisionmaking processes?
  2. What social equity considerations should inform BRIC grant decisionmaking processes?
  3. What are the barriers to implementing social equity considerations into the BRIC grantmaking decisionmaking process?
  4. What role should risk assessment tools play in the grant award process, and how can these tools be extended to consider changing environmental and other conditions?

Natural disasters have become more frequent and destructive. In 2020, the United States experienced the most billion-dollar disasters ever, with a total cost of $96.4 billion. Moreover, disaster damaged some communities — most notably, low-income and disadvantaged communities — more than others.

Much of the disruption and damage caused by these disasters could have been reduced through mitigation — that is, predisaster actions known to reduce damage and ease recovery. The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant award program is intended to help communities undertake this mitigation.

Authorized by Congress in 2018 and administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the program includes equity considerations alongside risk reduction, which represents a significant break with past policy and practice and foreshadows a new approach to building community resilience. How to meet these goals is the focus of this report, in which the authors identify ways for BRIC to develop a multihazard, forward-looking, risk-based approach to mitigation that also incorporates issues of equity and community well-being in its application and evaluation processes.

Key Findings

  • No single risk assessment tool is both quantitative and qualitative; has comprehensive and consistent data coverage in terms of hazards, geographic extent, and spatial scale; is transparent and accessible; and considers future and cascading risks, including to lifeline infrastructure.
  • The majority of risk assessment tools are focused on asset damage as the key outcome metric.
  • Current priorities do not reflect social systems or resources as essential parts of effective mitigation.
  • Comprehensive equity assessments are constrained by data limitations, as well as by a lack of clearly defined goals, mechanisms, target audiences, and metrics.
  • Benefit–cost and risk analyses are currently biased toward wealthy communities, while underserved populations face challenges meeting BRIC criteria.
  • An application evaluation tool can help determine which priorities BRIC addresses and which it omits.

Recommendations

  • Develop an action-logic model that demonstrates BRIC's pathways to equitable outcomes.
  • Address a broader set of drivers of vulnerability with risk mitigation strategies.
  • Add new criteria that include social resources as a key aspect of community resilience.
  • Identify reliable and valid equity metrics, and establish a process for data collection and analysis.
  • Use the National Risk Index to identify hazards and risks that are most relevant to BRIC, and develop ways to incorporate lifeline infrastructure exposure and future changes to hazard risk.
  • Provide more support to underserved populations in the application process.
  • Revise current methods for determining cost-effectiveness to reflect broader understandings of well-being.
  • Use the application evaluation tool to review year 1 BRIC applications to determine whether priorities are being addressed.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Design of the BRIC Grant Program for Year 1

  • Chapter Three

    Integrating Natural Hazard-Risk Considerations into BRIC

  • Chapter Four

    Challenges Integrating Equity into BRIC

  • Chapter Five

    Visualizing the Applications, Risk, and Sociodemographic Measures of the BRIC Program

  • Chapter Six

    Findings, Recommendations, and Concluding Thoughts

  • Appendix A

    A Review of Other Federal Grant Programs

  • Appendix B

    Criteria for Comparing Existing National Hazard-Risk Assessment Tools

  • Appendix C

    Existing National Risk Assessment Tools

  • Appendix D

    Data Used by the Application Evaluation Tool

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and conducted within the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program of the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) FFRDC.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.