What To Do During Disaster Recovery

The direct correlation between preserving existing buildings after a disaster and the speed of economic recovery cannot be overlooked. Previously established preparedness, response, and recovery plans with specific directions and tools can dramatically increase economic recovery and decrease the length of construction recovery time for residents, property owners, governmental agencies and the community at large.

Damaged or destroyed building stock and downtown areas can take years to rebuild and recover.  With the loss of residential and commercial buildings, cities and counties lose property tax and sales tax revenues, real estate transfer taxes, business licenses, and other sources of revenue. Lack of revenues from displaced businesses may result in a loss of employment base in the areas affected and force a reduction in critical city staff just when the area is struggling to rebuild and recover.

Although local jurisdictions are responsible for building and economic recovery, preservation community must remain vigilant in keeping historic properties at the forefront of the recovery process.


  • Local governments should be prepared to expedite recovery through pre-disaster adoption of a repair and reconstruction ordinance. It is important for local governments to have the necessary tools and enforcement in place prior to an event to ensure that their communities are eligible to receive FEMA funds to repair their facilities as well as potential mitigation funds to offset damage from future disasters.

  • Recovery assistance steps should include pre-approved procedures to simplify the repair permit process for property owners and expedite review process for minor repairs to encourage continued or early occupancy. Additional measures could include waiving certain planning requirements and amending existing municipal codes to authorize emergency purchases in the case of a disaster.

    Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for Local Governments - FEMA

    Repair and Reconstruction Model Ordinance - California Building Officials (CALBO)


  • Regularly update documentation on the condition of historic buildings, including public facilities. Information about the pre-disaster condition of the property will be important in the event of a disaster as any potential FEMA funding will be based on the pre-existing condition of the building.

  • Participate in community recovery efforts and take part in meetings to ensure historic properties are being properly addressed during the recovery process. Stay active in local government decisions on projects involving historic properties to prevent speculative demolition and promote incentives.
  • Help historic business districts recover by allowing immediate recovery of inventory and records, providing temporary facilities for displaced businesses, identifying and providing assistance in funding, improvements, and reconstruction, and establishing a business assistance coordinator to facilitate applications with SBA and FEMA.

    Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review Guide for Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance Applicants


  • Provide information on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines, including the Four Treatments (preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction), and technical assistance information on such things as cleaning, repair, replacement, and reconstruction in-kind to assist in the repair of historic properties.

  • Promote the continued use of historic preservation professionals to provide technical advice and direction on repair methodologies and rehabilitation. Identify and distribute material supplier contacts. Continue to provide information on financial incentives and lobby for additional legislative funds.

"Drying Out Water Damaged Buildings" video, courtesy of the North Carolina SHPO

Directory of Preservation Professionals - California Preservation Foundation