Welcome to the Housing Counseling Disaster Planning, Response and Recovery Toolkit

Glossary of Terms


Housing counseling agencies (HCAs) are in a unique position to help their communities prepare for and recover from a disaster. They can help their clients prepare for disasters by integrating preparedness into their counseling and education activities. Post-disaster, they can use their knowledge of local resources and programs to help clients navigate the complexities of disaster recovery resources and programs.

Why read this toolkit? HCAs can best support their communities in disaster preparedness and recovery when they are prepared themselves. This guide outlines the key actions that HCAs should take to prepare their operations, staff, and clients. For information on what HCAs can do after a disaster, see the companion guide on operating post-disaster.

Who should use this toolkit? HCAs, Intermediaries, State Housing Finance Agencies, and Multi-State Organizations that want to be prepared to play an active and effective role in local disaster recovery.

What is in this toolkit? This guide provides concrete guidance on how to prepare your HCA for a disaster. This includes:

  • Preparing your organization for immediate disaster event action with an Emergency Response Plan
  • Preparing your organization to open after a disaster by developing a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP)
  • Planning for your disaster recovery services by assessing likely needs and building partnerships in the community
  • Preparing your clients by teaching disaster preparedness

Housing counseling agencies can make a difference. Housing counselors are skilled in working with people of all demographics including traditionally disadvantaged and hard to reach populations (e.g. disabled, elderly, non-English speakers, people at risk of homelessness); have extensive knowledge of local, state, and federal resources for addressing housing needs; and have strong community referral networks. They are in the perfect position to help people prepare for emergencies, and help them when disasters strike.


Organizational Preparedness

Make a plan to ensure continuity of operations for your agency


To ensure that your agency is prepared for a disaster, you must develop appropriate plans, and share them with your staff.

Types of Organization Plans to Address Disasters for Housing Counseling Agencies

The following chart describes the difference between the Emergency Response Plan and COOP, the two documents agencies develop in order to effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster in their organization. HUD recommends that all agencies develop these two plans in order to adequately prepare their agencies. Specifically, development of a COOP was a preference point in the FY 2018 NOFA.


Emergency Response Plan

Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP)


Prepare and respond when an emergency/disaster occurs to ensure the safety of staff and clients. The plan details the immediate actions necessary to protect lives, avoid injuries, and stabilize the incident.

Continue operating throughout the recovery process following an emergency/disaster. The plan helps ensure that all personnel, facilities, and information are protected so that necessary functions and normal operations can resume rapidly.


Both plans should be developed in conjunction with the agency work plan or as soon the agency has capacity to develop the plans. Copies of the plans should be provided to all staff members.


  • Identify types of emergencies/disasters that may occur and their potential impact on your agency
  • Assess your agency’s capacity to achieve stabilization
  • Coordinate planning with federal/state/local community emergency response entities
  • Know who to contact and obtain any agreements required if assistance is needed
  • Develop protective actions for the safety of human life (i.e. shelter in place, evacuation, etc.)
  • Develop specific emergency/disaster procedures – who declares it for the agency, how is it communicated, what is expected of staff
  • Identify the critical functions that the agency must perform, regardless of the emergency
  • Identify additional services that may be needed as a result of different types of emergencies/disasters that may impact your agency
  • Identify personnel and resources needed to perform these functions
  • Establish procedures if the agency is unable to perform regular housing counseling services or elects to add new services
  • Develop a process to get the agency up and running again after the emergency/disaster
  • Develop a procedure for notifying HUD


This is a short-term plan that starts once the emergency/disaster occurs and is in effect until the agency triggers the activities identified in the COOP. 

This plan is implemented once the agency and its staff are stabilized and the agency begins to operate again.




Emergency Response Plan. An Emergency Response Plan guides an organization's actions in the initial minutes of an emergency. The Emergency Response Plan's main goals are life safety and stabilization of the incident to minimize the short-term damage to the agency. These goals ensure that the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) can be put into practice. The emergency response plan identifies the threats that are most likely in your community (such as hurricanes, tornadoes, blackouts, cyberattacks, terrorist attacks), specifies measures and equipment to address specific emergencies, and spells out emergency procedures for the disaster event. To develop an Emergency Response Plan, you will want to:

  • Assess agency capacity (people, systems and equipment) for "incident stabilization."
  • Connect with public emergency services (i.e., local emergency management agency, fire, police, and emergency medical services) to determine their:
    • Response time to your facility
    • Knowledge of your facility and its hazards
    • Capabilities to stabilize an emergency at your facility
    • Ability to coordinate with your agency for emergency planning and incident stabilization
  • Develop "protective actions for life safety" (evacuation, shelter, shelter-in-place, lockdown).
  • Develop hazard and threat-specific emergency procedures.
  • Institute procedures for notifying the HUD’s Office of Housing Counseling of "inactive status" if your agency is unable to perform business, including utilizing a phone tree.
  • Establish procedures for Emergency Response Plan and COOP Activation.
  • Train staff regularly on emergency roles and responsibilities with emergency plan exercises.

Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). A COOP prepares your agency to maintain its essential functions after a disaster event. Its objective is to ensure continuous operations, protect facilities, equipment and records, and facilitate an orderly recovery so that normal service to clients can resume as quickly as possible. To develop a COOP, you will want to:

  • Consult the COOP template for housing counseling agencies.
  • Establish procedures for COOP activation.
  • Identify essential business functions and staff to carry out these functions.
  • Establish procedures with suppliers, vendors, and other businesses critical to daily operations.
  • Establish procedures to maintain contact with the Office of Housing Counseling (OHC) and other funders.
  • Institute procedures for notifying the OHC of "inactive status" if your agency is unable to perform business.
  • Create a plan for conducting business if your agency's building is not accessible.
  • Set up an electronic backup system for vital business records, including an alternate IT system, either battery-operated or on the cloud.
  • Consider using phone cards or a digital phone system to mask staff numbers in case they need to use personal cell phones or devices to counsel clients if they are unable to access the office.
  • Identify records and documents that must be readily accessible to perform essential functions and store these safely, perhaps off site, where they can be retrieved quickly.

Use the buttons below to access the 2 available versions of the COOP. The full-length COOP template is 7 pages and is recommended for agencies with more than 15 staff members. The abridged COOP template is 5 pages and is recommended for agencies with 15 or fewer staff members.

Full-Length COOP

Abridged COOP

Staff preparation. Train staff regularly on the Emergency Response Plan and the COOP and maintain up-to-date contact information for all staff. Also, encourage personal preparedness among employees. Your employees will be better able to help your business respond and recover if they know how to prepare at work and home. Consider having at least 10 percent of your employees trained in first aid and CPR/AED skills to handle emergencies at work. Offer first aid, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)/Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and preparedness training. Encourage your employees and their families to make personal plans and to identify alternate routes for going to and from your facility.


Community Preparedness

Create local networks and plan for your agency's disaster recovery services


Work with local community groups and government officials to ensure that they are aware of how HCAs can support disaster preparedness and recovery. Develop a local network that is prepared to support local disaster recovery efforts.

Identify disaster recovery services. Consider the services that housing counselors can provide. Clients may deal with a host of complicated problems such as:

  • Loss of employment and income
  • Increased expenses from the recovery process
  • Loss of important financial documentation
  • Difficulties paying their mortgages or rent
  • Facing foreclosure or eviction from damaged residences
  • Difficulty finding appropriate replacement housing
  • Difficulty navigating the complex web of disaster recovery programs
  • Slow disaster assistance application responses
  • Disaster aid denials from federal, state, nonprofit and insurance companies

These problems can be compounded by post-disaster emotional trauma. Housing counselors’ training and direct client service experience are well suited to help disaster survivors address these challenges. See the overview of housing counseling recovery services.

Advertise your capabilities. Your agency is a community resource. Reach out to the organizations in your community that are engaged in disaster preparedness and recovery and let them know what services you offer and may be prepared to offer in the event of a disaster. Develop written and electronic materials about your disaster recovery capabilities and share them with interested parties. Make your value proposition clear. Use this sample promotional flyer to develop your own materials. Your first step should be contacting existing clients about the disaster preparedness and recovery services you are able to provide them.

Engage with potential partners. Know the local emergency management agencies and resources and become involved with them and their planning.

  • Assess current partners and identify new ones. See the list of partners for disaster recovery.
  • Enter into an agreement outlining mutual emergency aid and services.
  • Consider working together before the disaster. For example, invite emergency service organizations into your agency to train staff, host a blood drive, or adopt a local school and support their disaster preparedness.


Client Preparedness

Help your clients prepare for disasters


Housing counselors are well positioned to help their clients prepare themselves for disasters, both physically and financially. Housing counseling, be it for homebuyers, homeowners, or renters, should include information about home and family preparedness as well as the financial planning necessary to weather the disruptions created by a disaster. Such planning can set the stage for a more rapid recovery.

Teach emergency preparedness to your clients. Consider including individual and family emergency preparedness in your classes and counseling sessions and encourage clients to created Family Emergency Plans that include critical elements such as meeting places inside and outside the home, a communication plan, a contact person outside the area, disaster kits, plans for pets, and more. See FEMA’s resources at on making a personal and family emergency plan.

Ensure that clients are financially prepared and their homes protected. Another important element is helping ensure clients are financially prepared and their home is properly insured and maintained in the event of a disaster. Use the financial preparedness checklist, the home and family preparedness checklist, and the basic home maintenance factsheet to walk clients through the steps they need to take to protect their finances and prepare their home.


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Download a ZIP file containing all tools or individual files


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Organizational Preparedness

Emergency Response Plan Guidance (PDF)

Mitigate the short term damage to your agency and ensure that the COOP can be put into practice.

Access the Spanish Version of the Emergency Response Plan Guidance

Housing Counseling COOP Template and Instructions (DOCX)

Prepare your agency to continue its essential functions across a broad spectrum of emergencies.

Access the Spanish Version of the COOP

Community Preparedness

Overview of Housing Counseling Disaster Recovery Services (PDF)

Leverage information about common disaster recovery issues and the counseling response.

Partners for Disaster Recovery (PDF)

Assess current partners and identify new ones.

Sample Promotional Flyer: HCAs Can Support Disaster Recovery (PDF)

Outline the information and services offered specifically by your Housing Counseling Agency.

Client Preparedness

Counseling for Financial Preparedness (PDF)

Ensure your clients are financially prepared in the event of a disaster.

Home and Family Preparedness (PDF)

Ensure your client’s home is prepared and properly insured in the event of a disaster.

Basic Home Maintenance (PDF)

Ensure your client learns the measures they can take to prevent disaster damage and save on costs following a disaster.