Land Trusts and Disaster Management

Guest posting from reader Ann Patton, who is a long-time activist in the emergency management field.

I keep thinking this land trust idea could be very useful in disaster management. Perhaps you already have used or know about this potential tool. I wish I had it available when I was doing the work.

Our son Michael Patton is director of Oklahoma’s Land Legacy, a nonprofit that works on land and water conservation by acquiring and preserving development rights on lands that have high conservation value, in exchange for generous tax write-offs. As I understand it, Land Legacy has a very broad grant of powers, and Michael is using those powers creatively.

In essence, a landowner might be able to exchange the development rights on his/her land for IRS tax credit. With some careful, creative management, I believe it could even be extended to floodplain acquisition — something that is going to become more and more urgent with rising seas. In essence, the IRS becomes a potential funding source.

If you are interested, here’s Michael’s website: Land Legacy.  There more info on his facebook page:




Reducing Disaster Risk by Managing Urban Land Use

New report from the Asian Development Bank: Reducing Disaster Risk by Managing Urban Land Use: Guidance Notes for Planners. ( 111 pp.)

Urban areas in Asian countries continue to face significant disaster risk. Rapid unplanned growth of cities increases the exposure and vulnerability of urban populations and their physical assets to natural hazards.

This document provides guidance for urban planners on how to use land use management-related tools they have at their disposal—land use planning, development control instruments, greenfield development, and urban redevelopment—to reduce disaster risk and contribute to strengthening urban resilience and sustainable urban development. The guidance provided in the document is further illustrated through case studies showing examples where urban land use management-related tools have been adopted to reduce disaster risk. It is hoped that this document will support urban planners as a professional group to step up and embrace disaster risk reduction.

Thanks to William Siembieda for this citation.

Unforeseen Consequences in Recovery from Landslides

This article in the weekend edition of the Wall St. Journal highlights some of the unforeseen consequences of the recent landslide in Oso.  Actually, these consequences are not unique to that location.  See: Mudslide Victims in Washington State Grapple With Debt Burden; Some Residents’ Lack of Insurance Leaves Potentially Millions in Unpaid Mortgages, Auto Loans. The lead in paragraphs follow:

Washington state officials estimate nearly $10 million of property damage from the blanket of earth and rock triggered by last month’s Snohomish County mudslide. Still up in the air is what will be done with potentially millions in unpaid mortgages, auto loans and other outstanding debt owed by residents of the slide area.

Those with standard property insurance against fire or theft wouldn’t have been covered against damages from the mudslide, which has caused 30 known deaths. For some, that could mean losses of hundreds…

Mudslides Explained – updated

Update:  Once again, we see an example of the gap between knowledge known by at least the scientific community about a hazard and the working knowledge of the current public officials. We saw that gap during Hurricane Katrina and we saw it again with Hurricane Sandy, to name just a couple of recent examples.

Apparently, there were several studies and several precedents for landslides in the area of Oso Washington.  The articles below go from oldest to newest:

(1) From the National Geographic: Mudslides Explained: Behind the Washington State Disaster. It begins:

A fatal mudslide in rural northwestern Washington State over the weekend underscores the dangers of this fast-moving natural hazard. On Saturday morning, a mudslide moved down the Stillaguamish River near the small former fishing village of Oso, Washington. Authorities have confirmed eight dead, eight injured, and as many as 108 people missing or unaccounted for as of Monday morning. The one-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometer) track of the mudslide also destroyed about 30 homes.

(2) See this posting by Eric Holdeman, on his blog Disaster Zone. He talks about the vulnerability and risk in Washington State in particular.

(3) From the Christian Science Monitor:  Can mudslides be predicted? Washington site’s history highlights challenge. (+video)

Eight people died in the Washington mudslide, and the toll is expected to rise. No detailed hazard map exists for the country as a whole, and no national database exists of past slides and the conditions that caused them.

(4) From the Washington Post, March 30 : Before the Landslides; Warnings about the Unthinkable.  One quote: ” It was a nightmare waiting to happen.”

(5) April 5, Christian Science Monitor: Authorities Knew of Mudslide Danger But Didn’t Tell Residents.




How Good Land Use Planning Can Aid Recovery

A photo of the San Francisco Planning and Urba...


I recommend this new report from SPUR in San Francisco: On Solid Ground; How Good Land Use Planning Can Prepare the Bay Area for a Strong Disaster Recovery; issued February 2013.

This excellent 80 page report was prepared by an eminent task force.  The executive summary and a link to the full report are located at the URL noted above.

You might want to check out the website for other documents that may be of interest.


Thanks to Prof. William Siembieda for bringing this report to my attention.