Step 1D: Identify Target Hazards

One component of conducting a community risk assessment is to identify specific target hazards within your service area. These are sometimes referred to as “critical facilities.” Examples of critical facilities might include:

·  Hospitals
·  Assisted living centers
·  Community shelters
·  Schools
·  Airports
·  Important government offices
·  Emergency operations centers
·  Hazardous materials sites
·  Roadways
·  Water/sewage treatment facilities
·  Communications systems

You should also consider for inclusion among your list of target hazards, buildings with substantial value to the community (economic, historic, other), and other facilities that, if damaged or destroyed, would have a significant negative impact on the community.

Important Definitions

The definition of target hazards will vary among jurisdictions, and will be partially defined by your organization. FEMA defines these as: “facilities in either the public or private sector that provide essential products and services to the general public, are otherwise necessary to preserve the welfare and quality of life in the community, or fulfill important public safety, emergency response, and/or disaster recovery functions.” In order to conduct an effective target hazard assessment, some key definitions must be understood:

Hazards:  Known physical features that can ignite and sustain combustion, or existing features (natural or manmade) that have the potential to cause negative impacts to life, property and/or natural resources.

Values:  Community assets, including life, property and natural resources.

Target Hazard Data

In most communities, the local assessor’s office will have a database that includes a listing of all the tax parcels within a community. Tax parcel information includes the property boundaries, use description, building area, number of floors, assessed values, and more.

Some fire departments maintain occupancy data in their records management systems. Typically, this is acquired from information gathered from regular property inspections. Such systems may provide much more comprehensive information for identifying target hazards, and enable you to generate detailed reports that describe significant hazards. In some jurisdictions, property inspections are performed by government organizations outside of the fire department. In these cases, this can be another valuable data source to help in identifying your target hazards.

Using Fire Crews to Identify Target Hazards

One option that can assist in determining target hazards is to utilize fire crews to identify facilities within their station’s emergency response service areas. Firefighters assigned to a particular station often have good insight into critical structures and facilities within their area. Sometimes referred to as a “windshield survey,” companies can be assigned to drive around their district and identify various target hazards. If possible, they can perform more comprehensive inspections and pre-incident surveys, and document important details. This information can be combined with other target hazard data to develop the final analysis.

GIS-Based Target Hazard Analysis

Target hazards should be contained in listings and/or maps (which distinguish target hazards from other structures) that depict the details and locations of the vulnerable areas and critical structures and facilities. Probably the most effective method of generating a target hazard analysis is the use of a GIS-based model. As mentioned previously, GIS is being widely used among local government entities.

Oliver suggests that a GIS-based assessment is comprised of four elements: 5

  1. Identifying/classifying community hazards.
  2. Identifying risk factors, potential and probability.
  3. Identifying/classifying community assets/values.
  4. Fusing all of the elements into a visual display of the existing hazards: their potential impact on values, and the risk or likelihood of an unwanted event.

Data sources previously mentioned will be necessary to enable a complete GIS target hazard analysis. These data elements are available in most communities, and will be critical in the process of building the target hazard analysis. Sources should include (but not be limited to):

  • Utilities locations (electric, gas, etc.)
  • Tax parcels
  • Previous fire & other incidents
  • Zip code boundaries
  • Water supplies & hydrants
  • Occupancy data
  • Street layers
  • Hazmat permits
  • Assessed value
  • Block groups
  • Census tracts