Beyond the Basics is designed to help local governments prepare a new, or update an existing, hazard mitigation plan.  It is based largely on FEMA’s Local Mitigation Planning Handbook (2013), but features additional examples of best practices drawn from local hazard mitigation plans in the U.S.   In essence, we took the FEMA handbook and added excerpts from some of the best mitigation plans we found.  In many cases, these plans go beyond the minimum required for approval by FEMA. Hence, the name Beyond the Basics.   Either FEMA’s handbook or this website can be used to prepare a high quality local hazard mitigation plan.  For more information about the hazard mitigation plans from which many of the examples included in this website were drawn, see About Beyond the Basics.

Emergency Management Activities

  • Mitigation. Sustained actions taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to life and property from hazards.
  • Prevention. Actions necessary to avoid, prevent, or stop an imminent threat or actual act of terrorism.
  • Protection. Actions necessary to secure the homeland against acts of terrorism and human-made or natural disasters.
  • Preparedness. Actions taken to plan, organize, equip, train, and exercise to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk to the security of the Nation.
  • Response. Actions necessary to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs after an incident has occurred.
  • Recovery. Actions necessary to assist communities affected by an incident to recover effectively.

Hazard Mitigation

Disasters can cause loss of life, damage buildings and infrastructure, and have devastating consequences for a community’s economic, social, and environmental well-being.  A community can take steps to mitigate the long-term risks from disasters, for example by increasing awareness about risks from hazards, protecting critical facilities such as water treatment plants and hospitals, and removing structures from hazard-prone areas such as floodplains.  Local mitigation actions and concepts should be incorporated into land use plans and building codes to ensure that the plans and ordinances are mutually reinforcing.  (See FEMA’s Integrating Hazard Mitigation into Local Planning).

Local governments are responsible for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Proactive mitigation policies and actions help reduce risk and create safer, more disaster-resilient communities. Mitigation is an investment in your community’s future safety and sustainability. In fact, mitigation can help:

  • Protect public safety and prevent loss of life and injury,
  • Reduce harm to existing and future development,
  • Prevent damage to a community’s unique economic, cultural, and environmental assets,
  • Minimize operational downtime and accelerate recovery of government and business after disasters,
  • Reduce the costs of disaster response and recovery and the exposure to risk for first responders, and
  • Accomplish other community objectives, such as leveraging capital improvements, infrastructure protection, open space preservation, and economic resiliency.

Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000

The purpose of the Stafford Act, as amended by the Disaster Mitigation act of 2000, is “to reduce the loss of life and property, human suffering, economic disruption, and disaster assistance costs resulting from natural disasters.

Section 322 of the Act specifically addresses mitigation planning and requires state and local governments to prepare multi-hazard mitigation plans as a precondition for receiving FEMA mitigation project grants.

Mitigation Planning

Mitigation is most effective when it is based on a comprehensive, long-term plan that is developed before a disaster occurs. The purpose of mitigation planning is to identify local policies and actions that can be implemented over the long term to reduce risk and future losses from hazards. These mitigation policies and actions are identified based on an assessment of hazards, vulnerabilities, and risks and the participation of a wide range of stakeholders and the public in the planning process. Benefits of mitigation planning include:

  • Identifying actions for risk reduction that are agreed upon by stakeholders and the public,
  • Focusing resources on the greatest risks and vulnerabilities,
  • Building partnerships by involving citizens, organizations, and businesses,
  • Increasing education and awareness of threats and hazards, as well as their risks,
  • Communicating priorities to state and federal officials, and
  • Aligning risk reduction with other community objectives.

Planning for a Changing Climate and Social Vulnerability

In 2015, the website was updated with new best practices on hazard mitigation with emphasis on climate change and social vulnerability.  A growing number of communities have developed strategies to adapt to climate change and better account for the social vulnerability of different populations in their hazard mitigation plans.

Guiding Principles for Preparing a Plan

The mitigation plan belongs to the local community. While FEMA has the authority to approve plans in order for local governments to be eligible for mitigation project funding, there is no required format for the plan’s organization.

When developing the mitigation plan, keep the following guiding principles in mind:

Focus on the mitigation strategy. The mitigation strategy is the plan’s primary purpose. All other sections contribute to and inform the mitigation strategy and specific hazard mitigation actions.

Process is as important as the plan itself. In mitigation planning, as with most other planning efforts, the plan is only as good as the process and people involved in its development. The plan should also serve as the written record, or documentation, of the planning process.

This is your community’s plan. To have value, the plan must represent the current needs and values of the community and be useful for local officials and stakeholders. Develop the mitigation plan in a way that best serves your community’s purpose and people.

Website Organization

There are nine recommended tasks for developing or updating a local hazard mitigation plan, as shown in the left sidebar. These are the same nine tasks included in the FEMA handbook.  However, you may decide to use a completely different organization for your plan, or complete the tasks in a different order, as long as the plan meets FEMA’s basic requirements.  Some tasks can be completed concurrently, while others depend on completing preceding tasks first.  For example, your community could review its capabilities (Task 4) while simultaneously conducting a risk assessment (Task 5), but the risk assessment should precede the development of a mitigation strategy (Task 6).

Tasks 1-3 discuss the process and people needed to complete the mitigation planning tasks and the best ways to document the planning process. Tasks 4-8 cover the specific analyses and decisions that need to be completed and recorded in the plan. Task 9 provides suggestions and resources for implementing a plan to reduce risk.

Each task contains several discrete sub-tasks.  Simply click on the task itself (e.g., Task 1 or Task 5), and a drop-down menu will appear to display the sub-tasks.  Click on the task again to collapse the dropdown menu.

A compilation of worksheets and tools to help communities complete each task can also be accessed from the left sidebar.


The icons shown below are used throughout Beyond the Basics to highlight required elements of mitigation plans, elements pertaining specifically to plan updates, and examples from local mitigation plans.

Federal Planning Regulations

RequirementsUnder the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, the federal government requires all local governments to prepare and adopt hazard mitigation plans in order to be eligible for funds to support pre-disaster mitigation efforts and post-disaster recovery. The federal requirements (44 CFR §201.6) for local mitigation plans are highlighted throughout this website to provide clear guidance on the federal regulations that must be met before FEMA will approve a local hazard mitigation plan. Sidebars are used to reference the specific section of the federal regulation and the associated element in FEMA’s Local Mitigation Plan Review Guide and Tool.

Mitigation Plan Updates

Plan UpdateBeyond the Basics is applicable to new and updated hazard mitigation plans. Every five years, a community must review and revise its existing plan to reflect changes in development, progress in local mitigation efforts, and changes in priorities and resubmit it to FEMA for approval. In this website, plan update recommendations and requirements are addressed within each task and highlighted in the text.

Examples and Special Topics

ExampleThroughout Beyond the Basics, we provide examples from local hazard mitigation plans to illustrate certain concepts, topics or approaches important to mitigation planning. Although none of the 175 plans evaluated in the original research project received high scores for all planning principles, the excerpts of the plans included in this website are exemplary in one area or another, such as the planning process, risk assessment or mitigation strategies. For links to the plans included in the examples, click here.