•  Carrier


Building Resilient Communities

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is focused on helping communities across the country increase their resilience in order to mitigate significant economic losses and disruptions to daily life inflicted by natural hazards.


By Stephen A. Cauffman


flooding in Iowa



Every community in the United States faces the risk of natural, human-caused, or technological hazards. While most hazards do not rise to the level of extreme events, natural hazards often inflict significant economic losses and disruption to daily life due to damage to buildings and infrastructure systems.

To help address this problem, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a Community Resilience Program. The first major deliverable under this program, the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, developed with input from a broad range of stakeholders, was released as a draft for public comment on April 27, 2015. The final document will be released around September 2015.



The Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems is intended for implementation by communities with local governance structures, such as towns, cities, counties and military bases. The guide provides a methodology for local governments to bring together the relevant stakeholders and incorporate resilience into the long-term community development planning processes. However, the approach recognizes that no one entity can address resilience by itself. Rather, individual community members, organizations, building owners, utility owners and operators, businesses, and all government agency levels are part of a collective planning and response effort. The guide lays out a practical approach based on the principle that by establishing a shared set of goals aimed at maintaining—or being able to quickly restore—important social and economic functions, communities can plan and undertake improvements in how buildings and infrastructure systems are built, maintained and operated so that resilience improves over time.

Buildings and infrastructure systems are vital to community prosperity and health. If these systems fail, or are damaged, essential services can be interrupted over a wide area. Resilient communities are more likely to experience minimal or local disruptions in services and avoid long-term detrimental effects for the prevailing hazards they face. If an extreme event occurs, the extent of disruption and recovery time is reduced with pre-event planning for recovery.

The NIST guide will help communities plan how to achieve a rapid, prioritized restoration of functionality. By integrating resilience into long-term planning processes, communities also can achieve many valuable benefits before the need to be resilient is ever required. These include providing an attractive, vibrant place to live and a reliable environment for businesses to locate. 



NIST graphic - Functional Requirements



The guide is organized into two volumes. Volume 1 contains the methodology for developing a community resilience plan and includes a worked example for resilience planning in a fictional town. Volume 2 serves as a resource document and provides guidance on characterizing the social environment; addressing dependencies and cascading effects; and buildings and individual infrastructure systems. 

There are a number of key steps that are necessary to take for establishing a community resilience plan.

Form a collaborative planning team. Leadership is needed to promote and integrate coordination and outreach activities and should come from within the local government. The planning team may include representatives from local departments, such as community development, public works, human services and building departments; county, state, or federal government agencies with buildings or infrastructure in the region; public and private owners and operators of buildings and infrastructure systems; local businesses; individual community members; and community organizations.

Understand the situation. Resilience planning begins with an understanding of the community’s individuals and social systems and the extent of disruption that can be tolerated before there are detrimental effects. An understanding of the social dimensions addresses the needs of individuals and the social institutions that meet those needs, including government, business, industry, financial institutions, health, education and community service organizations, religious and cultural belief groups, and the media. Once the social dimensions are characterized, it is important to characterize the built environment by identifying the key attributes and dependencies for buildings and infrastructure systems, as well as how they are linked to social institutions. Considering these linkages aids communities in grouping buildings and infrastructure systems into subsets that support common functions.

Determine goals and objectives. Long-term community goals guide plans to strengthen resilience, including prioritization of resilience activities. Performance goals for the built environment are based on the time it takes to recovery functionality and are established at two levels: desired performance as a long-term goal and anticipated (likely) performance for existing systems. The desired performance goals should consider the social needs of the community and consider the functions that buildings and infrastructure systems need to provide, as well as dependencies between systems or cascading effects caused by failures. Desired performance goals are set independently of prevailing hazards because they are driven by social needs, not by a hazard event. Once performance goals are set, prevailing hazards and the effects of changing conditions, such as sea level rise or drought, are identified. Then, the anticipated (likely) performance of each group of buildings and infrastructure systems is evaluated in terms of its expected time to recover functionality. The guide recommends that the performance of the built environment be evaluated at three levels for each hazard: routine, expected and extreme levels. This will help communities understand performance across a range of hazard levels. Understanding how the built environment may perform and recover informs community priorities and implementation strategies.

Plan development. Initially, a comparison is made of the desired and anticipated performance of the built environment to identify performance gaps. These performance gaps are prioritized according to community goals. Possible solutions are then identified. These solutions may include administrative (land-use planning), operational (mutual aid agreements), and construction options to mitigate damage and improve recovery of functions. There may be temporary or short-term solutions to meet immediate needs as well as long-term, permanent solutions. These solutions then can be prioritized, based on meeting the desired performance goals.

Plan preparation, review and approval. A resilience plan that documents the community goals, desired performance goals, anticipated (likely) performance, prevailing hazards, and short- and long-term implementation strategies and solutions is prepared and shared for review and comment with stakeholders and their organizations, as well as with community members. The review process will differ from community to community. After review, the plan is finalized and adopted by the community.

Plan implementation and maintenance. The community then executes administrative, operational and construction solutions in the approved plan. It will be important for the community to evaluate the plan on a periodic basis, and to update as needed.


NIST’s Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems allows for solutions that fit the goals and available resources of the community. It does not specify measures that can or should be implemented. The intent is flexibility—so that the guide may be applied to communities of varying sizes, complexity and available resources.

The guide is just one element of a larger NIST program to provide guidance and tools to improve the resilience of local communities. NIST plans to convene a stakeholder group (the Disaster Resilience Standards Panel) to inform future versions of the guide and to inform the development of implementation guidelines.

A second component of NIST’s work involves the development of tools to measure resilience at the community-scale and to support decisions on measures to improve resilience. These efforts are supported by a multi-institution Center of Excellence, led by Colorado State University. The new center will develop modeling approaches and data architectures needed to develop and validate tools that can be widely used to measure community resilience.

  [For more information on the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, visit www.nist.gov/el/building_materials/resilience/.]


Stephen A. Cauffman is Manager, Community Resilience Program, Materials & Structural Systems Division, Engineering Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology; 301-975-6051, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..