Recent Urban Institute analysis finds that the people and communities living in the newly designated community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) have higher levels of social and economic vulnerability than the rest of the country, with rural regions in particular overrepresented. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies will use the CDRZ designation to prioritize key community supports, mobilize federal investments, and incentivize private-sector and philanthropic investments for a “whole of community support” approach.

Despite already meeting FEMA criteria for the “highest risk” threshold, some CDRZs will be better positioned than others to access available funding and prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. Agnostic investments that don’t consider such differences will risk the most-vulnerable and lowest-capacity communities falling further behind.

To extend previous Urban analysis, we analyzed the rurality and racial characteristics of CDRZs with more granularity. With these additional insights on CDRZ characteristics, federal agencies and private and philanthropic funders can better tailor assistance and capacity building to community needs and more equitably distribute CDRZ investments.

Rural communities are overrepresented among CDRZs

To assess the rurality of CDRZs, we considered each zone’s population size and distance from metropolitan areas. Smaller population sizes and greater distances have been associated with less community capacity and greater vulnerability, leading to worse outcomes after disasters because of smaller tax bases, longer distances from essential services, and less capacity to plan, fund, and implement climate resilience strategies.

Although many CDRZs are located in heavily populated areas like Los Angeles County, California, others are in remote, rural areas like Sedgwick County, Colorado, and Jewell County, Kansas, which have fewer than 3,000 people and are hundreds of miles away from larger cities.

We used the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural-Urban Continuum to categorize CDRZ tracts on a three-part scale from most rural to most metropolitan.

  • Remote rural: CDRZs in counties with urban centers of fewer than 20,000 people and located at least one county away from counties with metropolitan centers
  • Metro-adjacent rural: CDRZs in counties that do not have large enough populations to be classified as metropolitan but are adjacent to counties with metropolitan centers
  • Metro: CDRZs located in counties with metropolitan centers larger than 250,000 people

Read the full article about community disaster resilience zones by Anne N. Junod, Violet Sulka/Hewes and Amy Rogin at Urban Institute.