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Research Questions

  1. What is the logical chain of reasoning for how the BRIC program will support equitable predisaster mitigation and what measures are appropriate for capturing equity performance of the grant program?
  2. What risk and social vulnerability factors facilitated or impeded disadvantaged communities' ability to participate and succeed in the FY 2020 BRIC program?
  3. What options might improve the participation and success of disadvantaged groups in future years of the BRIC program?

Some U.S. communities, such as low-income or minority communities, are disproportionately affected by the impact of disasters. Distribution of both mitigation funding and recovery funding has not been equitably applied to all communities, with disadvantaged communities receiving less of both funds.

Weather and climate disasters continued to escalate in 2021, resulting in billions of dollars in disaster costs and hundreds of fatalities in the United States. Predisaster mitigation is meant to lessen the damaging effects of future storms — thereby reducing the losses to both infrastructure and communities.

The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program aims to help communities undertake predisaster mitigation to reduce natural hazard risk. In response to an executive order to address inequitable funding systems that impede progress toward community resilience, an explicit guiding principle of BRIC is to promote social equity and help members of disadvantaged groups. To track progress toward equitable outcomes, BRIC is in the process of developing equity evaluation methods. In this report, the authors describe the development of an equity action-logic model and example metrics. The relationship of community characteristics to participation and success in BRIC's first competitive cycle (fiscal year 2020) is examined. Recommendations address (1) how the BRIC program could evolve to track social equity outcomes in a meaningful way; (2) the value of integrated data sets and analytic methods for understanding the characteristics of communities that are applying for BRIC funding and those that are successful; and (3) the barriers disadvantaged communities face when applying for BRIC funding.

Key Findings

Active, ongoing efforts to establish equity evaluation approaches exist among federal programs

  • The draft equity action-logic model for BRIC includes one main pathway (funding projects) and several supporting pathways (e.g., engaging stakeholders, empowering agents of change, evaluating equity performance).

Participation in the BRIC program is lower for some disadvantaged communities but greater for others

  • BRIC participation is less likely for communities with lower-income residents and greater proportions of older adults or children but more likely for communities with higher proportions of minorities or a lack of vehicles.
  • BRIC participation is greater for communities at risk for wildfire, ice storm, hurricane, and riverine flooding. There was no greater participation for other disaster types that would seem seem like good candidates for BRIC funds, such as coastal flooding, tsunami, and tornado.
  • Drought would seem a good candidate for BRIC grants, which often focus on building infrastructure, but was significantly associated with lower BRIC participation.

Procedural barriers make participation more difficult for disadvantaged communities

  • Applying to BRIC is more difficult for communities with limited staff, time, expertise, and comparative perspective.
  • The BRIC application can be challenging for some communities because of the number of required elements and the technical expertise needed to navigate the FEMA website.

Data will need to be collated from multiple different sources to establish an approach for examining community characteristics related to participation and success

  • There is no readily available data set that combines information about natural hazard risk, sociodemographic variables, and BRIC subapplication data.

Recommendations

  • The BRIC program could evolve to track social equity outcomes in a meaningful way. Officials should refine the draft EALM as knowledge and data evolve.
  • Officials should refine the outcome indicators and metrics and define target groups most relevant to BRIC equity considerations.
  • Officials should evaluate the effectiveness of approaches designed to support communities with resource constraints.
  • Officials should continue to track and refine measures of social vulnerability as they are used within the BRIC program, working as necessary with data-generating institutions.
  • Officials should continue refining the application evaluation tool as a user-friendly tool for integrating diverse data to support analyses of BRIC equity performance.
  • Officials should simplify the BRIC application and connect communities to subapplication assistance.
  • Officials should explore whether and how BRIC might prioritize or incentivize participation from communities characterized by particular sociodemographics.
  • In the long term, officials should communicate updates to BRIC's equity evaluation methods and findings widely.
  • Officials should develop a separate assessment category for underserved communities.
  • Officials should develop a comprehensive community outreach program with cultural sensitivity training for staff.

This research was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and conducted by the Disaster Research and Analysis Program within the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND 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.

RAND 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.