The 483 census tracts recently designated as community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) will be eligible for enhanced hazard mitigation benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for at least five years. But the long-term, full vision for these zones is more expansive, with proponents imagining that the CDRZ designation will lead to substantial whole-of-government investments (like the recently announced Climate Smart Communities Initiative, which will prioritize CDRZs) and significant opportunities for private-sector and philanthropic investment.
Our preliminary analysis of the zones found that the communities in CDRZs have consistently higher levels of social and economic vulnerability and are far more likely to be located in rural places. If successful CDRZ implementation depends on place-based investments in these communities, then the governance and local governments’ capacities will be critically important. Understanding who governs the places with CDRZs, and what their capacities are, is a first step toward providing tailored resources to communities.
Who governs the CDRZs?
The Community Disaster Resilience Zone Act requires that FEMA designate census tracts where hazard and climate risk is highest. But census tracts—which can be as physically large as an entire county or as small as an urban neighborhood—do not align neatly with jurisdictional boundaries or units of government. Some CDRZs may be entirely within a single city, while others might include portions of multiple cities, towns, and rural areas. And yet, these jurisdictions are tasked with identifying potential projects, creating the necessary legal and regulatory environment, pursuing federal funding, facilitating project design and implementation, and managing public resources.
To identify the local governments with a CDRZ designation, we used data from the 2022 Census of Governments, which records all county, municipal, and township governments in each state. Municipalities are generally associated with incorporated places, while townships are associated with minor civil divisions. To connect each CDRZ tract to the relevant government, we used a place-to-tract and county subdivision-to-tract geographic crosswalk. We also linked county governments for the county a CDRZ tract is within when available.
Our analysis finds that 208 county governments, 475 municipal governments, and 205 township governments (along with all 50 states and the District of Columbia) are affiliated with a newly identified CDRZ. In most instances, a CDRZ falls into the geographical boundaries of multiple local governments (county governments, municipal governments, and/or township governments).
Our analysis also shows that many local governments have multiple CDRZs within their boundaries, including 35 percent of county governments with a CDRZ. Harris County, Texas, has 14 distinct CDRZs that are partially or fully within its borders—the most of any county. A smaller share of municipal and township governments (12 percent) have more than one CDRZ, with New York City having the most (17).
This analysis counts any government identified in the Census of Governments that overlaps with a CDRZ tract as associated with that tract, but this scope may be too broad of a generalization of which entities have administrative control over the tract and does not show how responsibilities are divided among overlapping entities (such as county and municipal governments), which varies between states and jurisdictions.
Outreach and engagement with CDRZs
Governance capacity—broadly defined as the ability of a government to develop and implement policy goals—is critically important for the CDRZs’ success. By definition, many CDRZs are in areas with limited governmental and institutional resources. Strengthening the capacity of these local governments will be a prerequisite for taking on infrastructure investment and for protecting the public interest while working with private organizations and funding. Further analysis is needed to characterize the capacity of the 888 local governments with CDRZs and to identify specific needs and gaps.
Given the large number of CDRZs represented by multiple local governments, collaboration will also be key for successful hazard mitigation. Regional collaboration requires time and resources, and existing groups like metropolitan planning organizations could lend significant capacity to aid these efforts. Jurisdictions that contain multiple CDRZs may want to establish city- or countywide programs of investments and will benefit from capacity investments that allow them to coordinate and collaborate with diverse on-the-ground stakeholders and community members.
In some instances, communities with CDRZs will have well-established networks of nongovernmental and faith-based organizations with the capacity to engage in project development. In others, local governments and their partners may need to invest significant time and resources to ensure community voices are heard in the planning and implementation of resiliency projects. In any case, these partners will differ depending on the makeup of the CDRZ. Multiple CDRZs—like those in Oakland and Houston—are dominated by airports, whereas others overlap with national parks, national forests, military installations, and prisons. In those instances, local governments may play a supportive, rather than leading, role or work with entities that have their own planning and development priorities.
Engaging with local governments and key stakeholders, learning more about their capabilities and needs, and encouraging collaboration will be early challenges for implementation of the CDRZs. Tailored strategies that consider the governance arrangements, capacity, and presence of institutional partners are needed. The Southeast Navigator Network project is an early effort to meet these challenges by assigning state-level navigators based within nonprofit and academic institutions to help connect with and support the CDRZs. Closely tracking which forms of outreach and capacity building are effective for first-generation CDRZs can help inform a broader strategy, especially as FEMA identifies additional CDRZs, including those on tribal lands and in US territories.