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close this bookCommunity Emergency Preparedness: A Manual for Managers and Policy-Makers (WHO, 1999, 141 p.)
close this folderChapter 3 Vulnerability assessment
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe process of vulnerability assessment
View the documentThe planning group
View the documentHazard identification
View the documentHazard description
View the documentDescribing the community
View the documentDescription of effects and vulnerability
View the documentHazard prioritization
View the documentRecommending action
View the documentSummary
View the documentReferences

The process of vulnerability assessment

The purpose of the process

There are several reasons why a rational process for assessing vulnerability is needed:

- to explain to others what is being done and how they can participate;

- to ensure that significant aspects of the vulnerability assessment are not missed;

- to justify the validity of the results, demonstrating that analysis has been thorough (this is particularly important when funding for emergency management is sought).

The steps in this process should be followed consecutively and information from each step used in subsequent ones (see Fig. 14).

Fig. 14. The vulnerability assessment process (WHO 97555)

Parts of the process

The parts of the vulnerability assessment process are as follows:

· The project definition determines the aim, objectives, scope, and context of the vulnerability assessment, the tasks to be performed, and the resources needed to perform them. This is described in Annex 1.

· The formation of a representative planning group is essential to vulnerability assessment and emergency planning. Without this group it will be difficult to gather the required information, obtain the commitment of key individuals, and allow the community to participate.

· Hazard identification reveals the hazards that exist in the community (although it is unlikely that all of the hazards will be discovered).

· Hazard description presents the hazards that exist in the community. The same hazards may manifest themselves differently in different areas and communities because there is an interaction between hazards, the particular community, and the environment.

· A community and environment description outlines the relevant information about the people, property, or environment that may affect or be affected by the hazards. More hazards may be identified at this stage.

· A description of effects is an account of community vulnerability - what is likely to happen in an accident, incident, emergency, or disaster involving a single hazard or multiple hazards.

· Hazard prioritization determines the hazards that should be dealt with first, and those that can be dealt with later or ignored, on the basis of their likely effects and community vulnerability.

· Recommendations for action are the link between vulnerability assessment and other emergency management activities. Planning, training and education, and monitoring and evaluation should be based firmly on the results of the vulnerability assessment.

· Documentation of all results and decisions is necessary to justify the recommendations, and any further emergency preparedness work.

Some problems in assessing vulnerability

Some of the common problems encountered in performing vulnerability assessments relate to data, lack of knowledge, attitudes, project scope, and rigid adherence to the process.

· Data - Unavailability of data on some hazards; data of unknown reliability; too much data on other hazards; too much data on communities and difficulty in determining which are relevant.

· Knowledge - Lack of knowledge in the community or the planning group of the methods of vulnerability assessment; lack of knowledge of specific hazards.

· Attitudes - A lack of cooperation from some agencies, particularly response agencies, who may perceive vulnerability assessment as an academic exercise only.

· Project scope - Poor definition of the area covered by the vulnerability assessment; trying to analyse too much; determining the amount of detail required in the hazard and community descriptions; presenting unrealistic and unachievable recommendations.

· Rigid adherence to process - Forcing the hazard and community descriptions into too rigid a framework - some of the characteristics suggested in this manual will not work with some hazards and communities; following the process in a lock-step manner and not allowing a return to earlier steps when required.

· Frustration with the process - It is possible that the planning group and the community will become frustrated with the vulnerability assessment process (problem analysis) and want to start emergency planning (problem-solving). It may be possible to begin planning and implementing vulnerability reduction while a formal vulnerability assessment is being performed, but a complete vulnerability assessment remains desirable.

Alternative processes

The vulnerability assessment process described here - and the planning process described in Chapter 4 - is one way of analysing and solving emergency preparedness problems. Another approach, which can be used to help start more formal vulnerability assessment and emergency planning, is the “community needs and resource maps” method. This method encourages community participation at the grass roots by:

- encouraging people to describe their problems;

- developing a preliminary list of community risks and needs;

- using field visits to verify risks and needs, and then creating maps that illustrate the problems and the available resources;

- establishing a local committee to make plans to deal with the identified risks and needs.

While this method is useful, the formal processes of vulnerability assessment and emergency planning allow for a more accurate description of hazards and vulnerability and better emergency preparedness.