What defines a region? While administrative boundaries at the municipal, county, state, and even metropolitan scale are generally widely accepted, regional boundaries have less historical, cultural, and political consensus. Without an agreed-upon arbiter of regional borders, coordination problems can emerge between various layers of government and private sector players who may use their own definitions to best suit their goals. While conducting planning activities, EDDs can be faced with a situation where its boundaries don’t necessarily match with those used by all governmental agencies.
Such was the challenge facing the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments (TARCOG) when it was approached by the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) to lead the creation of the Division F Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Though both were created by state statutes, Alabama’s ten EDD districts and its seven AEMA divisions are incongruous. Because EDD districts in Alabama were drawn to reflect shared economic interests, while AEMA divisions were drawn more to reflect shared environmental challenges, only four of the nine counties in AEMA’s Division F fall within TARCOG’s planning boundaries. To overcome this inconsistency and produce a quality plan that would prepare northern Alabama for the ever-growing threat of natural disasters, TARCOG leaned on its experience and reputation as a trusted collaborator, ultimately working with representatives from the three neighboring EDDs, all nine counties, and more than 100 participating jurisdictions on the plan.
The planning process, administered with a remote-first strategy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, made use of a variety of virtual resources and tools to inform stakeholders of the process, solicit feedback with survey tools and worksheets, and hold online meetings to ensure robust engagement. The process included two kick-off meetings, four stakeholder engagement meetings, and several online meetings with individual counties. Planners presented information in easy-to-understand graphic and cartological formats to ensure accessibility to stakeholders, many of whom did not have extensive experience with regional hazard planning topics. Moreover, because this was a new process for TARCOG, planners themselves had to stretch to develop competencies with hazard mitigation planning. Staff established an open dialogue with AEMA officials and learned to work with software like FEMA’s HAZUS tool.
The resulting plan is a triumph of coordination and forward-thinking disaster planning. Across nearly 1,000 pages, the plan is public-facing, visual, interesting, and readable to any member of the general public. As the intensity and frequency of natural hazards only continues to increase, it is critical to have mitigation objectives that can be implemented at a regional scale. “The plan exposed a need for further regional planning in hazard mitigation,” says Phoenicia Robinson, a Principal Planner at TARCOG. “By inserting the regional element you get to have a broader conversation about gathering up different scales of resources.”
This case study was written by Dion Thompson-Davoli, NADO RF Research Fellow
Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.
Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.
Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.
McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.