Rural Community Recovery after an Emergency or Disaster
During the recovery phase, communities work to reestablish the operations, resources, and systems affected by
the disaster. Recovery can focus on returning to a pre-disaster state, and it can also focus on making
improvements and other corrections to strengthen systems and improve sustainability and resilience. The specific
recovery efforts implemented will differ for every community and by the type of disaster.
Recovery is a long-term and ongoing process. Successful recovery efforts begin during the planning phase, which
is when communities can develop a pre-disaster recovery plan. Establishing a pre-disaster recovery plan is one
of the guiding principles for successful recovery, outlined in the FEMA National
Disaster Recovery Framework. Other guiding principles that support successful recovery are community
empowerment, government leadership and authority, inclusive and engaged partnerships, unified and coordinated
effort, timeliness and flexibility, resilience and sustainability, and a focus on mental and behavioral health.
Recovery Stages and Core Capabilities
The Recovery Continuum describes the recovery
process as the “sequence of events that move a community toward recovery.” Depending on the size and
scale of the incident, recovery activities may be initiated days (short-term), weeks to months (intermediate),
or months to years (long-term) after the disaster. Short-term recovery efforts typically focus on
restoring operations and functions, whereas intermediate and long-term recovery efforts may focus on
reconstructing systems in the community and improving resilience.
According to FEMA, the core
capabilities of focus for recovery are economic recovery, health and social services, infrastructure
systems, housing, and natural and cultural resources. Other core capabilities are addressed throughout the
recovery continuum, including during the planning and response phases. These include planning, public
information and warning, and operational coordination.
Identify Recovery Needs
Pre-disaster planning is important for supporting recovery efforts. Rural communities can begin identifying
recovery needs before a disaster occurs, during the planning phase. To guide identification of needs, rural
communities should develop shared goals and priorities and define desired recovery outcomes. Priorities and
outcomes should be based on the core capabilities.
After a disaster, it is important to continue the process of assessing and identifying needs. Post-disaster
planning focuses on understanding the immediate needs, determining priorities, and facilitating reporting to
other entities who can provide support and assistance. The post-disaster identification of needs is crucial for
leadership, especially for supporting their ability to act after a disaster. Rural communities can implement
different types of assessments following a disaster. These assessments may provide detailed information on risks
and hazards, damages and costs, and other impacts connected to the recovery core capabilities. For more
information, see Assess Impact
and Damage Post-Emergency.
Both pre-disaster and post-disaster recovery planning and identification of needs involve collaboration with
partners, including community members. Partners should reflect all sectors, including:
- Government agencies, including local, state, and federal
- Nonprofit, faith-based, and other community organizations
- Schools and educational organizations
- Healthcare services and first responders
- Medical examiners and coroners
- Individual community members
Using a Whole Community approach, rural communities can ensure that these efforts are inclusive of the entire
community and addressing the needs of populations that may be disproportionately impacted by the disaster.
Implement the Recovery Plan and Restore Operations
The community can begin implementing the recovery plan once community needs are well understood. The plan must
connect to the established recovery goals and priorities. The plan will be implemented following the recovery
continuum, addressing short-term, intermediate, and long-term recovery efforts. The goal of these efforts is to
restore operations that align with the core capabilities.
Restoring operations is important for ensuring business continuity and limiting operational gaps for the
community. Rural communities can create a business
continuity plan to help ensure businesses and other organizations in the community can continue
functioning with minimal disruption. A business continuity plan is designed to alleviate burdens and ensure a
timely recovery process when an emergency or disaster event occurs.
De-escalating response activities is a key part of restoring operations. De-escalation involves reducing surge
capacity activities, adjusting public communications and messaging, transitioning community volunteers to
support recovery activities like assessments and finding permanent housing for community members, and resuming
Communication is crucial during recovery. Partners and organizational staff must be kept apprised of recovery
efforts and next steps. Community members must be educated and notified about recovery efforts and available
services. This requires coordination with partners and consistent, unified messaging. For more information, see
Public Safety and Crisis Communication in
an Emergency or Disaster.
Strategic coordination is an ongoing need throughout recovery. Local communities play a primary role in leading
recovery activities, while also coordinating with partners at the local, tribal, state, and federal level. The
National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides a structure for coordination to support recovery. In
addition, the FEMA National
Disaster Recovery Framework strongly recommends that communities and tribes designate one individual to
serve as a recovery coordinator. This individual is referred to as a Local Disaster Recovery Manager (LDRM) or
Tribal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (TDRC). States should also appoint a State Disaster Recovery Coordinator
(SDRC), who may provide assistance to local communities. The LDRM/TDRC is responsible for organizing and
coordinating recovery activities within the local community. Depending on the scope and scale of the disaster,
the LDRM/TDRC may liaise with neighboring jurisdictions, other partners, and state and federal agencies to
coordinate services and assistance.
Reconstruct and Build Resilience
In addition to restoring operations, rural communities can implement activities during recovery that serve to
build community resilience for future emergencies and disasters. Building resilience is an important part of
long-term recovery efforts that links resources, strategies, and partners to rebuild the community. Resilience
integrates mitigation strategies into recovery, which will help rural communities reduce present and future
risk. For more information, see the FEMA National
A successful recovery effort builds the foundation for future preparedness and response.
Resources to Learn More
Recovery Management Toolkit
Describes a three-step process for communities to organize, plan, and manage the recovery process. Includes
guidance, resources, reports, tools, and community examples.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Disaster Resiliency and
Recovery: A Guide for Rural Communities
Identifies federal programs and services that can help rural residents, businesses, and communities impacted by
disaster. Includes options that address disaster preparedness and recovery.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Emergency Preparedness and
Recovery: A Toolkit for Rural Communities
Provides information and resources to support rural community preparedness and recovery. Discusses the
importance of establishing a long-term recovery group (LTRG). Considerations are discussed using a social
determinants of health lens.
EDA and Disaster Recovery
Provides resources from the EDA for disaster recovery including tools, funding links, reports, and data.
Organization(s): U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)