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Disaster Planning phase 1: Mitigation

Posted by Sloane Dell'Orto | June 19, 2020

In this post we’ll go over the basics of the mitigation phase and share resources to help you perform a Risk Assessment for your district. This may sound like a big complicated topic, but we're going to walk you through it step by step. We even have a template you can use to complete phase 1.

Get the template (instructions are on the second tab):

Mitigation efforts are designed to prevent hazards from developing into disasters altogether, or to reduce the effects of disasters if they do happen. They may include any action taken in advance to eliminate or reduce the long-term risk to life and property from natural and technological hazards. (Think: working with your community to increase clearance around buildings, installing a battery backup system to help protect technology from an electrical surge or outage, etc.)

The mitigation process is important because it lays the groundwork for the preparedness phase. And of course, each phase builds upon the phases that came before. Through effective mitigation practices we can ensure that fewer people and communities become victims of natural disasters. Mitigation can take many forms. It can involve such actions as:

  1. Promoting sound land use planning based on known hazards
  2. Developing, adopting and enforcing building codes and community standards
  3. Buying flood and other insurance to protect your belongings
  4. Relocating or elevating structures out of the floodplain
  5. Using fire-retardant materials in new construction
  6. Developing and implementing a plan in your business or community to reduce your susceptibility to hazards

Depending on your district type (fire, resource conservation or reclamation district, etc) you may be involved in the first two. Items three through five may apply to even more readers (I certainly hope you have insurance!) However, since those are individual efforts that don’t have broad application to all districts, we are going to focus on item 6 in this article so that we can tackle some tangible action items.

Before hopping into the risk assessment section, let’s talk about a few of the hazards you will want to consider (and keep in mind that there are likely others particular to your district type or community that may not be included here).

Natural Hazards

  • Meteorological: flooding, dam/levee failure, severe thunderstorm (wind, rain, lightning, hail), tornado, windstorm, hurricanes and tropical storms, winter storm (snow/ice)
  • Geological: earthquake, tsunami, landslide, subsidence/sinkhole, volcano
  • Biological: pandemic disease, foodborne illnesses

Human-Caused Hazards

  • Accidents: workplace accidents, entrapment/rescue, transportation accidents (motor vehicle, rail, water, air, pipeline), structural failure/collapse, mechanical breakdown
  • Intentional Acts: labor strike, demonstrations, civil disturbance (riot), bomb threat, lost/separated person, hostage incident, workplace violence, robbery , sniper incident, terrorism (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives), arson, cyber/information technology (malware attack, hacking, fraud, denial of service, ransomware attack, etc.)

Technological Hazards

  • Information Technology: loss of connectivity, hardware failure, lost/corrupted data, application failure
  • Utility Outage: communications, electrical power, water, gas, steam, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, pollution control system, sewage system
  • Fire/Explosion: fire (structure, wildland), explosion (chemical, gas, or process failure)
  • Hazardous Materials: hazardous material spill/release, radiological accident, hazmat incident off-site, transportation accidents, nuclear power plant incident, natural gas leak
  • Supply Chain Interruption: supplier failure, transportation interruption (could be a secondary issue caused by any of the others above)

Modified from the list available at

Action item:
Perform a Risk Assessment

Now that you’ve been thoroughly freaked out by the long list of terrible calamities that could befall your district, it’s time to plan for that time when the sky actually does fall. (And if your life is like mine, it’s probable that by spending some valuable time planning ahead, the sky won’t wind up falling.)

The first step when performing a risk assessment is to consider each of your district’s “assets.” (We’ll share a worksheet that will help with this process a bit later.)



Download the Risk Analysis infographic (PNG)


While it sounds callous to consider humans an asset, the truth is that considering your people first is the most compassionate and caring thing you can do. It’s also smart, since without your people it will be hard to manage the response and recovery phases. So, for the purposes of this exercise, forgive me for lumping us all in with the hardware. :-)

There are many “assets” at risk from hazards, but let’s start with the humans:
Any hazard that could cause significant injuries to your people should be identified early in the process so that effective emergency plans can be created for scenarios likely to occur.

Next, consider your property and other physical assets:
buildings, technology equipment, utility systems and controls, machinery, vehicles, etc. Be sure to list everything that your district relies on to conduct business and serve the public.

Lastly, don’t forget about the threat to your reputation in the community or press:
if you’re unable to perform the duties of your district - for example, an inability to respond to Public Records Act requests, not getting agendas posted properly or on time, etc.

Once you have a list of your asset categories, it’s time to start creating your official Risk Assessment! If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry - we have tools to help a bit further on.

From As you conduct the risk assessment, look for vulnerabilities—weaknesses—that would make an asset more susceptible to damage from a hazard. Vulnerabilities include deficiencies in building construction, process or systems, security, protection systems and loss prevention programs. They contribute to the severity of damage when an incident occurs. For example, a building without a fire sprinkler system could burn to the ground while a building with a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system would suffer limited fire damage.

These tools can help you get started

Of course, the hard part is doing the work to actually mitigate the risks that you’ve identified. But you’ve taken the first step!


We held a workshop on creating a Risk Assessment in early 2020. Feel free to download slides or view the recording!



Next steps

Now that you’ve begun your Disaster Planning journey, be sure to read the rest of the posts in this series where we cover the Preparedness, Response, and Recovery phases. Each post will have resources and actionable items to help you complete the entire process:

Phase 1: Mitigation | Phase 2: Preparedness | Phase 3: Response | Phase 4: Recovery


As usual, we’re here for you! If you have any additional questions we might answer,
give us a shout.

Topics: Disaster planning

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