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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

Hazard identification


Hazard identification determines the hazards that may affect people in a community. This third step in the vulnerability assessment process provides information for further analysis. Hazard identification is not straightforward - people may have quite different perceptions of what constitutes a significant hazard. For this reason seeking the views of a number of people in the community is essential.

A group technique for identifying hazards

Hazard identification should be undertaken by a group of people, such as a planning group, with expertise in the area of work and a commitment to the safety of that area. One quick method to determine people’s perceptions of the most serious hazards and avoid the pitfalls of “groupthink”,1 is the following:

1“Groupthink” is a phenomenon that can occur in highly cohesive groups - to minimize conflict, the members of the group concur and restrict their thinking to the norms of the group. No one wishes to be seen as out of place. This can limit the range of ideas and views that the group could otherwise generate.

· Each person in the group should be asked to write down the 10 hazards (in the area being investigated) that most concern them, and be given a few minutes to do this.

· When they have finished the first task, they should rank, in terms of “seriousness”, the hazards they have listed as “high”, “medium”, and “low” (using their own definition of “seriousness”).

· Each person should then say what he or she has written down (without the ranking) and answers should be recorded on a blackboard, whiteboard, or large sheet of paper. Duplications should not be recorded; if very similar hazards are mentioned, planning group members should refine what they mean. Suggestions must not be belittled, but recorded uncritically.

· When each person has contributed, a table similar to Table 5 should be drawn up.

· Group members should be asked about each hazard listed; the numbers of people who consider each hazard to be high, medium, or low in seriousness should be recorded.

Table 5. Hazard ranking

In terms of “seriousness”





Hazard “a”




Hazard “b”




Hazard “c”




Hazard “d”




The numbers recorded in the table indicate how people in the planning group feel about the hazards in the community and may reflect accurate knowledge on their part. The numbers certainly reflect the group’s perception of which hazards are a problem. The numbers have no meaning outside the context of the planning group meeting and certainly should not be used for any other purposes.

This technique has the following benefits.

· It allows everyone to have their say and avoids some of the problems of “groupthink”. If everyone is allowed to contribute, the likelihood of developing a meaningful vulnerability assessment is greater.

· It encourages interaction between people who may not know each other and may encourage all group members to continue contributing.

· It prompts the members of the planning group to think analytically.

· It demonstrates to all members of the group that people have divergent points of view concerning hazard and risk and will to some extent validate these different points of view.

· It increases members’ commitment to the vulnerability assessment because they have had a chance to contribute.

Other techniques for identifying hazards

Other techniques for identifying hazards include:

- researching the history of emergencies in the community, by consulting histories, newspapers, records, and older community members;

- inspecting the community for evidence of previous emergencies, existing hazards, and existing vulnerability;

- examining literature or interviewing people from similar communities;

- requesting information from provincial or national governments.