Transportation Research Board (TRB) NCHRP: A Pre-Event Recovery Planning Guide for Transportation

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) developed Report 753: A Pre-Event Recovery Planning Guide for Transportation, which provides an overview of steps involved in planning and preparing for the recovery of critical transportation infrastructure after a catastrophic event such as a severe storm or wildfire. The Guide was developed to assist transportation owners, operators and planners with pre-event recovery planning. It outlines principles and strategies to improve the speed and success of recovery efforts, and identifies many decision support tools and resources to assist in both planning recovery prior to an event and implementing recovery after an event. By engaging in recovery planning, transportation planners can ensure that recovery involves not just restoring operability but also taking advantage of opportunities to make infrastructure more resilient after extreme events.

Planning for recovery, which is defined by FEMA as “full restoration of operability,” usually does not happen until after a disaster has already occurred. Chapter 3 of the Guide describes twelve overarching principles for approaching the pre-event recovery planning process that, if followed, will help ensure quick, efficient, and cost-effective recovery. Examples of principles include:

  • “Recovery Is Different from Response,” emphasizing that those implementing the recovery plan must understand how their responsibilities integrate with the emergency response operation.
  • “Short-Term Approaches Have Impact on Long-Term Recovery,” increasing the importance of identifying in advance and addressing the short-term actions, such as bridge closures and locating debris sites, that will affect long-term recovery.
  • “Rebuilding Is an Opportunity to Improve Infrastructure and Incorporate Resilience,” and effective recovery planning can enable more strategic rebuilding of damaged infrastructure to reduce future risks.
  • “Link Pre-Event Recovery Planning to Other Plans,” suggests planning for transportation recovery alongside other existing plans such as hazard mitigation or emergency management plans, or incorporating pre-disaster recovery planning into those planning processes. For example, the Caltrans Hazard Mitigation Plan includes disaster recovery, and Caltrans developed a recovery section for inclusion in the California State Emergency Plan.

The Guide summarizes the major decisions and key tasks of pre-event recovery planning in Chapter 5. Some tasks can occur prior to an event, such as identifying repair and replacement approaches in advance and pre-qualifying contractors. Others can only occur post-event but can be supported by pre-event efforts. For example, pre-event identification of critical infrastructure and vulnerability assessments can be used to support the prioritization decisions that must be made during recovery. For each major decision that must be made for recovery, the Guide includes a table summarizing the necessary key tasks and identifying whether they occur pre- or post-event, and whether they expedite or support recovery. The major decisions include:

  • Identification/Prioritization of Infrastructure
  • Repair or Replacement Criteria and Options
  • Temporary Structure/Traffic Detour: Short-Term Recovery
  • Demolition: Partial or Complete
  • Design: Identical or New Design
  • Contracting Options and Processes
  • Construction Strategy and Techniques
  • Project Management and Delivery Approaches
  • Environmental Requirements

Each of these decisions is discussed in more detail, with particular focus on the tasks and considerations that should occur before an event. Appendix A also provides a listing of tools and resources that can assist in pre-event recovery planning and post-event recovery efforts, organized into categories corresponding to each of the major decisions identified in Chapter 5. 

The Guide also identifies key lessons learned and effective practices gleaned from a number of case studies in Chapter 4. Examples of these lessons and practices include taking a regional approach to transportation recovery planning, using simplified designs to expedite reconstruction, and taking a phased approach to recovery. Five of the case studies, detailed more fully in Appendix B, were conducted under NCHRP Project 20-59(33) and demonstrate a cross-section of critical infrastructure that faced unexpected catastrophe, such as the 2008 floods in the Midwest that disrupted major shipping and rail lines and the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. Chapter 4 also includes additional case studies from literature review, such as the 2006 storms and mudslides in California and the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana.

Finally, the Guide includes a summary of funding sources potentially available for rebuilding and recovery:

  • Federal sources, including: Stafford Act Programs, such as FEMA Public Assistance grants; U.S. DOT grants, such as FHWA Emergency Relief funds; and other federal programs, such as HUD Community Development Block Grants.
  • State programs, such as State Disaster Emergency Funds and state bond initiatives.
  • Other funding sources, such as private insurance coverage.

Appendix E provides more detailed information on federal funding for recovery, as well as a comparison of federal programs funding transportation infrastructure.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on February 11, 2015.


Publication Date: 2013

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