- Applied research is needed to determine whether there are distinctive signatures to recurring acute disasters and their impacts on human ecosystems.
- Long-term observations of disaster hot spots are needed to develop lessons learned based on empirical evidence and to determine how impoverished and rural communities either recover or do not from successive events.
- New models are needed regarding the impact of compounding and cascading events on infrastructure.
- Applied research is needed to characterize readiness for multiple hazards that can strike at any time.
- Applied research is needed to assess the extent to which government policy promotes or inhibits private-sector initiatives for improving resilience.
- Applied research is needed to inform more effective collaboration among the entities that respond to disasters and to consider issues related to both local capacity and social equity.
The Resilient America Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened two committees to address applied research topics in the field of hazard mitigation and resilience to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in reducing the immense human and financial toll of disasters caused by natural hazards and other large-scale emergencies. FEMA asked the committee to identify applied research topics, information, and expertise that can inform action and collaborative priorities in the fields of natural hazard mitigation and resilience. The committee, in consultation with the Resilient America Program, selected two large-scale themes within which to identify applied research topics: equitable and resilient infrastructure investments, and compounding and cascading events. This report examines the second theme; a prior report considered the first.1
The committee organized a 1-day public workshop to inform this report, where four foundational themes for future research were identified: (1) compounding and cascading disasters are the new normal; (2) legacy conditions need to be assessed, evaluated, and addressed; (3) researchers need to practice codesign with communities, starting with pain points and impacts and working backward to solutions; and (4) relentless resilience, or the ability to function throughout a series of disruptive events, is critical for a future marked by compounding and cascading events.
From the workshop discussions, the committee chose three approaches to addressing applied research priorities that are particularly germane to natural hazard mitigation and
1 The prior report can be accessed at https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26633/equitable-and-resilientinfrastructure-investments.
resilience: (1) defining the problem—diagnosing drivers, systems, and relationships that impact understanding of compounding and cascading disasters; (2) mitigating impacts—developing solutions and avoiding unintended consequences; and (3) effectively implementing solutions and strategies, and governance for those solutions and strategies. The committee selected these approaches based on information gained at the workshop, input from the Resilient America Roundtable, and committee members’ backgrounds and experience with hazard mitigation and resilience.
On defining the problem (first approach), more investigation is needed to determine if there are distinctive signatures to recurring acute disasters and their impacts on human ecosystems. In addition, the committee identified a need for long-term observations of disaster hot spots to develop lessons learned based on empirical evidence and to determine, in particular, how impoverished and rural communities recover or do not from successive events.
On mitigating impacts (second approach), the committee identified a number of applied research questions pertaining to developing solutions and avoiding unintended consequences associated with mitigation and adaptation for the built environment, systems, and populations. Additionally, the committee described questions regarding benefit-cost analysis, incentives, and social equity considerations. Among them were such questions as how to better model the impact of compounding and cascading events on infrastructure, characterizing readiness for multiple hazards that can strike at any time, and assessing the extent to which government policy promotes or inhibits private-sector initiatives to improve resilience.
On effective implementation and governance (third approach), workshop discussions pointed to the need for applied research that would improve institutional operations, enable communities to better leverage federal disaster preparedness and relief funds, expand governance perspectives and strategies, and identify governance knowledge and tools needed for implementing solutions and strategies. Taken together, these research questions aim to inform more effective collaboration among entities that respond to disasters and to consider issues related to both local capacity and social equity—such as lack of trust, the need for two-way knowledge transfer, and modifying benefit-cost analysis to account for perpetuation of inequitable investments in historically affected and underserved populations.