Urban planning for natural hazard mitigation

Integrating urban planning and disaster risk reduction

Urban planning for natural hazard mitigation

This project aims to produce new and innovative ways of integrating urban planning and natural hazard risk management. It will increase the understanding of what planning and emergency management can and cannot do, separately and in synergy, and develop new approaches to applying tools and methods available to planning systems to the design and management of communities as they change.

Urban planning systems have considerable potential to modify the impacts of natural hazards upon the built environment, and to contribute to resilience processes and outcomes. Ideally, urban planning would draw together a wide range of decision making processes that relate to overall settlement patterns, land uses, structure plan design, infrastructure and the range of social, environmental and economic factors that represent urban settlements. Strategic planning processes offer the potential for higher tier coordination across a range of activities, objectives, time frames and agencies.  However, connections to statutory and other implementation activities and processes are often incomplete, in conflict with each other, or are simply uncertain in the outcomes they actually achieve as “wicked problems”.

Beyond divisions between statutory and strategic planning, a range of fundamental challenges face the integration of planning with natural hazard risk management (NHRM) and the potential to build resilient processes for NHRM into integrated urban planning.  These include settlements including pre-existing patterns of investment, tenure and human characteristics. Changing these pre-existing elements typically takes considerable time and concerted effort. New types of emergent and complex risks such as heatwave and heat island, infrastructure “brittleness” and differences of service capacity across cities and regions, including response times impact on resilience. Variables that define vulnerability such as social inequity are variable and complex. This has led to a lack of joint consideration of multiple hazards, resulting in potential conflicts and missed opportunities, and possibly poor outcomes. Planning systems themselves include a range of different tools that offer quite particular ways of achieving outcomes.  Further, they operate at national, state, regional and local levels, and are run by public entities, while most change in settlements is driven wholly or partly by the private sector on a site by site basis.

The project has the following aims:

  • Describing, assessing and synthesizing current approaches to various typologies of risk, resilience and hazard in urban planning
  • Developing understandings of urban planning and its objectives amongst risk and resilience management professionals and vice versa.
  • Understanding the potentials and impediments of urban planning for risk reduction and adaptive capacity for building resilient processes, including economic, social and environmental goals
  • Examples of existing and new evidence translation and policy innovation into planning practice
  • New strategies integrating disaster prevention and risk reduction, evidence and decision making tools with urban planning, and community decision making
  • Identifying and understanding the interfaces and trade-offs between scientific, empirical knowledge and value judgments, to finding solutions
Photograph: Brisbane City Floods. Andrew Kesper. CC-BY-2.0

Project details

Major Sponsors

Bushfires and Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre (BNH CRC)

Research Partners

Australian National University
University of Adelaide
Research Institute for Knowledge Systems (RIKS)
Maastricht Country Fire Authority (VIC)
Country Fire Service (SA)
Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, South Australia
Office of Emergency Management, WA
State Emergency Service South Australia
Emergency Management Victoria
Inspector-General for Emergency Management (VIC)
Department of Premier and Cabinet (TAS)
Planning Institute of Australia
SA Metropolitan Fire Service
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria
New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Project Team and Contacts

Alan March (Project Lead)
Ruth Beilin
Janet Stanley
Leonardo Nogueira De Moraes (University of Melbourne)
Stephen Dovers (Australian National University)
Holger Maier
Graeme Riddell (University of Adelaide)
Hedwig van Delden (Research Institute for Knowledge Systems [RIKS])


Alan March