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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:

  • Businesses
  • 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 usual operations.

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 Mitigation Framework.

A successful recovery effort builds the foundation for future preparedness and response.

Resources to Learn More

Community 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)
Date: 10/2021

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)
Date: 08/2021

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.
Organization(s): Planners4Health
Date: 2/2018

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)

FEMA Guides to Expanding Mitigation
Shares several guides focused on expanding partnerships to improve and support mitigation efforts for various population groups and community sectors such as people with disabilities, public health, transportation, and more.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)