New Methodology Improves Disaster Planning

By Margaret Gracie and Laura Nichol
February 2012

Scientists develop a standardized methodology to help anticipate the likely impacts of natural disasters.
Photo of emergency responder vests ready for use at the Squamish Emergency Operation Centre

Informed planning can significantly reduce the level of emergency response required during a natural disaster

Natural hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes can damage buildings, interrupt power and communications systems, and disrupt transportation. These effects often have the immediate further result of putting lives in jeopardy. To anticipate these risks and take measures to reduce them is the goal of disaster planners.

With this objective in mind, scientists at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) are working to standardize the methodology for hazard risk reduction. The aim is to help municipal planners and provincial bodies anticipate the likely impacts of natural hazards that may threaten a community or region.

“State-of-the art land use scenarios help planners visualize future geological conditions. This will help communities anticipate the consequences of potential disaster events and plan accordingly.”

Nicky Hastings, Activity Lead, Quantitative Risk
Assessments Project, Natural Resources Canada

Hazus — The Standard for Estimating Loss

Scientists chose a methodology for evaluating risk called Hazus, developed by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In August 2011, NRCan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with FEMA to adapt the methodology for use in Canada.

Hazus uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) that describes the built environment of communities, including data such as population and infrastructure characteristics. This information is used to assess the intensity of potential natural hazards and, in turn, the associated levels of damage and losses they could cause in a particular community.

Diagram of the Hazus model shows the data that is required and produced by the model

The Hazus model combines data on infrastructure vulnerability and natural hazard risks to model community losses

“Risk assessment methods today focus on existing conditions in the natural environment,” says Nicky Hastings, Activity Lead for the Quantitative Risk Assessment Methods (QRAM) Project. “Our team now has the capability to model changing conditions of vulnerability and risk. State-of-the art land use scenarios help planners visualize future geological conditions. This will help communities anticipate the consequences of potential disaster events and plan accordingly.”

The QRAM team has been busy populating the Hazus inventory database with specialized information for Canada, developing risk models and building partnerships with federal-provincial agencies, planners, engineers and other scientists.

Vancouver District Recognized for Disaster Planning

One of NRCan’s most successful partnerships has been with the District of North Vancouver. Chosen as a case study early in the project, the district worked closely with NRCan and other participants to create a comprehensive disaster risk reduction strategy.

Through analysis and modelling of local natural hazard risks, QRAM gave North Vancouver the particular information it needed to plan responses to earthquake, landslide, debris flow and even hurricane scenarios. The resulting planning was so extensive and outstanding that it earned the district a United Nations Sasakawa Award for excellence in disaster risk reduction.

Ultimately, the team’s work will benefit other municipalities as they incorporate the Hazus methodology into their community planning. “In the future, we’ll have safer communities because natural risks are accurately identified and factored into community planning,” Nicky says.

For more information on natural disasters in Canada, visit NRCan’s “Natural Hazards” Web page.

To read about related articles, see Natural Hazards

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