Community Hazard Vulnerability Assessment

On August 23, 2011, residents in the tristate area (Maryland, Virginia, and District of Columbia) experienced an uncharacteristic event, but one relatively commonplace in the western United States and other regions of the world: an earthquake. The tristate area reported mostly minor damage from the Mineral, Virginia earthquake, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral; Fig. 22-1 ). The National Cathedral sustained over 20 million dollars in damage when masonry structures were shaken apart. In the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of their webpage dedicated to the earthquake, the question was asked, “Why is the earthquake damage not covered by an insurance policy?” The response is illustrative:

While we try to consider every eventuality in our stewardship of the Cathedral, it is necessary to make decisions based on the best information available at the time. Until August, the area had not seen an earthquake of this size since 1897. The combination of the improbability of an earthquake coupled with high deductibles and annual premiums made the purchase of earthquake insurance a poor financial decision. We are currently reviewing our coverage to ensure that the Cathedral is prepared in similar circumstances going forward.

Fig 22-1

National Cathedral Damage.

Standing taller than a human, this fallen pinnacle weighs thousands of pounds.

(Source: John Stuhldreher, photographer, courtesy of Washington National Cathedral.)

Similar mitigation considerations were contemplated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). After acknowledging that the Mineral, Virginia, earthquake was only the second event since the 1700s to register greater than a magnitude 5.0, the council recommended that local government should further standardize their response to earthquakes. Both the MWCOG recommendation and the National Cathedral’s FAQ insurance response seem to suggest the expenditure of effort and resources to prepare for the next earthquake event despite acknowledging the very low likelihood of an(other) earthquake event.

An even more obscure hazard example is a solar event. Solar events occur approximately every 11 years and are evidenced by waxing and waning sun spot activity. Periods of intense sun spot activity are known as solar maximum events. The most common manifestation of solar maximum events are the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) shifting southward, visible over the continental United States. Other effects are less innocuous, and these include loss of global positioning satellite (GPS) services, radio system interference, and damage to critical infrastructure (e.g., communications systems and power grids). Similar solar events in 1972 damaged phone lines, and those in 1989 blacked out a large portion of the northeast United States and Canada. Despite the known vulnerability and potential severity of consequences, preparation for solar events remains relatively unheard of among most emergency planners.

The community hazard vulnerability assessment (cHVA) is a process used by many communities to identify high-probability risks. The cHVA involves the systematic examination of a multitude of hazards, as well as their individual probabilities and the consequences that may be encountered in the community. This assessment requires an in-depth knowledge of the community and is typically performed by a multidisciplinary team. The cHVA is often used as the basis for the community’s emergency management program and selection of target hazards. Earthquakes and solar events are just two possible scenarios that challenge community and hospital emergency managers and elicit the question what should you plan for?

Like the health care facility hazard vulnerability assessment (HVA) presented in Chapter 23 , the cHVA helps emergency planners identify potential community threats. Emergency managers and community leaders conducting cHVAs are met with similar budgeting challenges when trying to determine how best to allocate limited resources to high-risk hazards. Unlike the hospital-based HVA, the scope and performance of cHVAs are often beyond the direct control (and sometimes influence) of hospital-based planners and are conducted by local emergency management officials. Nonetheless, hospitals must engage with community planners and response agencies to develop a successful, comprehensive emergency preparedness program.

Historical perspective

To understand where the practice of conducting an HVA arose, one must understand the short, fragmented history of emergency management in the United States.

The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) was established by President Truman in 1949 in response to increasing Cold War concerns. The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 was quickly passed to give the FCDA the authority and resources to begin planning and coordinating activities. One of the most noteworthy successes of the FCDA and its director, Val Peterson, was the idea that civil defense activities such as disaster planning had peacetime value. Meanwhile, Congress continued to reinforce the role of the federal government in responding to (but not preparing for) disasters with the Federal Disaster Act of 1950. This act, intended for “getting assistance to rebuild the streets and farm-to-market highways and roads,” was viewed by many as Congress establishing the legal basis for a continuing federal role in disaster relief. Subsequent acts, including the Disaster Relief Acts of 1970 and 1974, reinforced the federal government’s role in disaster relief.

In 1972, the Office of Civil Defense, which had been reestablished in 1961, was renamed the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. Moreover, increasing international tensions and growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons gave rise to the concept of crisis relocation planning (CRP). The premise behind CRP was the dispersal of the populace from high-risk areas in times of heightened international tensions; in essence, this was an extension of existing hurricane evacuation programs that many coastal areas had successfully developed. Two years later, Congress passed the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, which specifically authorized the federal government to assist in disaster preparedness activities.

Difficulties in implementing CRP and the resulting frustrations experienced by federal, state, and local emergency planners led to a study and report by the National Governors Association (NGA) in 1978. This report called for a coordinated federal policy and approach to emergency planning. The NGA report introduced the concept of comprehensive emergency management (CEM), which is the cornerstone for emergency management today. In response to the NGA report and pressure from the constituency, President Jimmy Carter established the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979, to pull together many fragmented federal programs and implement a CEM program. Under CEM, instead of focusing on specific scenarios and their consequences (e.g., nuclear attack, earthquake, or flood), local and state agencies were encouraged to ask the following:

  • What hazards confront our community?

  • What resources are available? What needed resources are not available? Over what period of time could local government reasonably acquire these resources?

  • What actions could be taken to mitigate future vulnerabilities?

These questions are essential to an Integrated Emergency Management System (IEMS) approach; IEMS is the tool under which FEMA implements CEM. Under IEMS, emergency managers perform systematic assessments of both hazards and response capabilities. Gaps are identified, and then multiyear remediation plans, along with hazard mitigation and recovery plans, are created to address these gaps. Implicit in the use of IEMS is the change from a reactionary to a proactive approach to emergency management. This planning approach facilitates the transition from a hazard-specific to an all-hazards approach to emergency management.

Significant events in the 1980s (e.g., Three Mile Island and the Loma Prieta Earthquake) and 1990s (e.g., Hurricane Andrew) helped focus attention on the agency and its disaster planning, response, and recovery efforts. Following the terror attacks of 2001, FEMA adopted a new mission: homeland security. Working with the newly created Office of Homeland Security, the agency, using its all-hazards approach to disasters, directed billions of dollars to communities to help prepare for the terrorism threat. In 2003, FEMA was integrated into the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the new agency tasked to bring a coordinated all-hazards approach to planning for and responding to both human-made and natural disasters.

Current practice

To properly plan for emergencies in the community, focus is applied to identifying the list of potential hazards, their probability or relative risk, and their consequences. This process helps the planning team decide which hazards merit special attention, what actions must be planned for, and what resources are likely needed.

The cHVA is composed of four critical elements:

  • cHVA team membership

  • Community profile

  • Hazard identification

  • Hazard profiling (probability and consequences)

To gain better insight into the cHVA process, we will review each of these elements in greater detail.

cHVA Team Membership

A multidisciplinary team approach should be considered for both the cHVA and the development of the final Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) for many reasons, including:

  • To share (synergistic) expertise

  • To develop and foster teamwork and working relationships

  • To ensure that a holistic view of hazards is taken

  • To create a sense of ownership and commitment from all parties

The constituency of the teams will differ depending on their stated purpose (e.g., cHVA vs. plans development). Prospective members of the cHVA team may include representatives from various agencies and organizations. Examples are listed below:

  • Emergency Management Agency

  • Community leadership (e.g., city manager and county executive)

  • Each community public safety agency (law enforcement—police department and sheriff’s office, fire department, emergency medical services [EMS])

  • Hospitals and other community health care facilities

  • Public health agencies (local health department)

  • Planning departments or agencies

  • Public works

  • Utilities

  • Local emergency planning committee (LEPC)

  • Professional groups (e.g., Certified Hazardous Materials Managers and American Society of Safety Engineers)

  • National Weather Service (NWS)

  • Special hazards occupancies or operations (e.g., military bases, industrial complexes, dams, and nuclear power plants)

  • Major business entities

  • Other emergency management planners (e.g., from local, county, regional, or state agencies or private industry)

  • Volunteer agencies

  • Animal welfare agencies and caretakers (i.e., shelters, farmers, Humane Society)

Development of Community Profile

A profile of the community to be assessed is the first step in the cHVA process. This profile should include information relative to the location of hazards, affected populations, community operations, and public safety. Geospatial information systems (GIS) tools are often a valuable means to accomplish this task. Examples of relevant information for a community profile are listed below.

  • Demographic information

  • Land use and development patterns (including master plans)

  • Geographic features

  • Climate

  • Transportation networks

  • Key industries and organizations

  • Critical infrastructure

  • Location of public safety agencies

  • Emergency warning system coverage

Hazard Identification

Hazard identification is the exercise of identifying what kinds of emergencies have occurred or could occur within the jurisdiction. For assessment purposes, it may be helpful to divide emergencies into the following categories:

  • Naturally derived emergencies: for example, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and winter storms

  • Technologically derived emergencies: for example, power or utility failures, hazardous materials releases, and computing systems failures

  • Human-made emergencies: for example, attacks involving weapons of mass destruction

A partial listing of potential emergencies is provided in Box 22-1 . This listing is not all inclusive, and care must be taken to ensure that hazards are not inappropriately excluded or omitted when assembling the community’s overall list of potential hazards. More importantly, hazards may arise from differing sources (e.g., epidemics may be naturally occurring or the result of bioterrorism). Finally, hazards and emergencies may be linked together. For example, a hurricane may generate flooding, mudslides, and loss of utilities.

Aug 25, 2019 | Posted by in EMERGENCY MEDICINE | Comments Off on Community Hazard Vulnerability Assessment

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