Edited Version December 1, 1999
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"A New Planning Tool from NOAA:
Community Vulnerability Assessment Methodology "

Sandy Eslinger
Coastal Hazards Specialist
NOAA's Coastal Services Center

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the December 1, 1999 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom!

For the benefit of our first-timers, when you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window. After the first one, the browser window may not automatically come to the top, so you may need to bring it forward by clicking on a button at the status bar at the bottom of your screen.

We will start with a presentation, and then follow with a Q&A session for your questions and comments. Right before we begin the Q&A portion we will review the procedure.

Please do NOT send direct messages to the speaker or moderator as it makes it difficult for us to follow the discussion.

Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/991201.htm>.


Today we are very pleased to welcome Sandy Eslinger, Coastal Hazards Specialist with NOAA's Coastal Services Center. She is going to tell us about a new Community Vulnerability Assessment Tool that is available on CD. In addition, there will be a Web version, and they plan to offer some training. I have seen the CD and I would like to point out this can be used for all hazards, NOT just coastal ones, and it is the most comprehensive tool that I have seen, in that it addresses the complete spectrum of vulnerability. Sandy, thank you for taking time to join us today.


Sandy Eslinger: Thanks, Amy. Today, I am going to discuss a project recently completed by NOAA's Coastal Services Center. This project is an informational aid designed to assist communities in their efforts to reduce hazard vulnerability. The project was developed in partnership with New Hanover County, North Carolina. This community was one of FEMA's original seven Project Impact pilot communities. They worked with NOAA in the development and application of a comprehensive community-wide vulnerability assessment.

Before communities can develop effective hazard mitigation strategies, they must first identify their hazard risks and assess their vulnerability to the impacts of those hazards.

To aid in these efforts, we created a CD-ROM that includes a newly developed methodology for conducting a community-wide vulnerability assessment.

The general methodology is included as a tutorial that steps the user through a process of analyzing physical, social, economic and environmental vulnerability at the community level. The foundation for the methodology was established by the Heinz Panel on Risk, Vulnerability, and the True Cost of Hazards (1999). This panel of multi-disciplinary experts conducted a study to identify the full range of disaster costs. They found that many disaster costs go far beyond government assistance and insured losses. Many of the things that cause individuals and communities to suffer great losses can be traced to social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities. Therefore, this new methodology was developed to help communities look at their vulnerabilities from a more comprehensive perspective. The slide below summarizes the comprehensive information covered in the vulnerability assessment.


Step 1 in this process involves the identification of hazards and their relative priorities. The slide below is shows the hazards and priorities established by New Hanover County.


Step 2 involves the identification and mapping of risk consideration areas utilizing the best available information to identify high potential impact areas for each potential hazard. The slide below shows a couple of examples.


Step 3 involves the identification and analysis of vulnerability in critical facilities including structural and operational concerns. The slide below illustrates examples.


Step 4 includes the identification of special societal vulnerabilities to hazards. These areas could be most dependent on public resources after a disaster and thus could be good investment areas for hazard mitigation activities. Some examples are shown in the slide below.


Step 5 involves the identification of primary economic centers and large employers and an analysis of their vulnerability to hazards. Some economically vulnerable locations of New Hanover County are shown in the slide below.


Step 6 involves the identification of secondary technological hazards and their potential impact on environmental resources. These potential hazards can include oil facilities or hazardous waste disposal sites. Examples of environmental resources include wetlands or habitat areas. The slide below depicts a couple of examples from New Hanover County's assessment.


Step 7 involves the identification of opportunities for developing effective hazard mitigation policies or strategies. These opportunities can range from zoning changes on undeveloped land to more aggressive marketing of flood insurance. New Hanover County examples are shown in the slide below.


This entire process is described in detail, along with case study examples and geographic information system (GIS) project files, on the CD-ROM product. A free copy of the Community Vulnerability Assessment Tool can be ordered by contacting <[email protected]>. A web version of the CD-ROM is also available at <http://www.csc.noaa.gov/products/nchaz/startup.htm>.

Thank you for your attention. I'll hand it back to you, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Sandy. Audience please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the enter key or clicking on Send. We will now take your questions or comments for Sandy.

[Audience Questions]


Roger Kershaw: What is the difference between the CD and web versions?

Sandy Eslinger: The web version has only the HTML view. The CD version also has GIS projects to illustrate how these analyses can be performed

Amy Sebring: Yes, and has a copy of ArcExplorer where you can actually change your views.


Amy Sebring: Sandy, what data sources did you use, and can others find similar sources?

Sandy Eslinger: We used numerous public data sources. We included resource information on the CD.


Roger Kershaw: What is required to get the CD, any credentials needed to prove who I am? etc.

Sandy Eslinger: No. I think we can take your word for it. I doubt too many imposters go around asking for this stuff!

Roger Kershaw: Ok thanks.


Daryl Spiewak: Is the GIS info in ARCView format?

Sandy Eslinger: The GIS info is in both ArcView and ArcExplorer formats.


Cheryl Salerno: Sandy, what type of organizations/companies would typically employ this product? And was this device used successfully prior to the ‘99 hurricane season?

Sandy Eslinger: Good question. We currently have a number of different clients employing this methodology. They include local emergency managers, state resource managers (Coastal programs) and others who are embarking on long range planning projects. The idea is to use this method to help identify and prioritize planning actions.


Amy Sebring: New Hanover County has been impacted by several storms. Were they affected by Floyd, and did use of this pay off?

Sandy Eslinger: They were indeed impacted by Floyd. Unfortunately, we were still in the final stages of this analysis when Floyd hit so it wasn't really at a point to be "used". They were however, more knowledgeable about where they needed to pre-position resources after the event.


Amy Sebring: One of the applications I understand was in evaluating their shelters?

Or planned uses perhaps?

Sandy Eslinger: Yes. They are in the process of conducting detailed shelter evaluations.


Isabel McCurdy: Are there any international clients employing your methodology?

Sandy Eslinger: Yes. We have been working with the Organization of American States in their efforts in the Caribbean.


Avagene Moore: Is there an 800 number or email address for additional help if someone has questions beyond the tutorial?

Sandy Eslinger: Yes, we can be contacted through the clearinghouse address I put up earlier or I can be contacted directly at <[email protected]>.


Amy Sebring: Sandy, I know you are working with FEMA on this. What are plans for distribution?

Sandy Eslinger: We have ordered an initial 2000 copies. 1000 have been obtained by FEMA to distribute to their Project Impact Communities.


Amy Sebring: Is it going to be demonstrated at the Project Impact Summit coming up?

Sandy Eslinger: Yes. Several of our staff and I will be there presenting.


Cheryl Salerno: Recent news reports have indicated that especially harsh hurricane seasons are in store for the East coast in years to come. Sandy, would you agree with this and would you comment on the efficiency of current evacuation plans along the East Coast?

Sandy Eslinger: Wow! I'm not sure I am particularly qualified to say but I will give you my humble opinion. There is evidence to support the fact that we are entering a long- term trend of increased hurricane activity. I am personally very concerned about the status of hurricane evacuation plans. Coastal communities continue to grow rapidly and with increased media attention, more people are trying to evacuate when storms are brewing. Most evacuation plans are developed to accommodate evacuees from storm surge areas. Many large storms mean more people will leave from the threat of high winds and inland flood damage. It has the potential for nightmares on our roads in the future.


Michael Beel: More of a suggestion than a question. Have you considered sending the program to the universities that have or are developing emergency management programs. Getting them on board might encourage its use by future emergency managers.

Sandy Eslinger: That's a great idea!

Amy Sebring: Yes, also State Training Officers, please Sandy!


Lois McCoy: I am sitting here in Florida at the intersection of I-41 and I-75. That is the Tamiami trail and there is no way that these folks are going to make it out. These are two lane roads.

Sandy Eslinger: One of my goals in our efforts here at the Coastal Services Center is to try to get local planners to integrate hazards and emergency planning into their development planning programs. We are active members in Smart Growth and Livable Communities initiatives.


Roger Kershaw: Our community on the east coast shoreline has been given evacuation signs. I can tell you that some lead you towards lower elevations, as well as closer to the water at the same time. I can't figure out who posted them either. The signs seem to be posted haphazardly. Was a comment about the evacuation planning mentioned earlier.

Sandy Eslinger: I am not sure where you live but most of the hurricane evacuation sign programs are implemented at the state level. I would hope they have been coordinated but I could not say for sure.


Jon Kavanagh: Are school and other typical evacuation facilities being built with secondary use (shelter) in mind? Are they reinforced and flood areas planned, etc., to help reduce the need of clearing out a huge population?

Sandy Eslinger: It is my understanding that is the future of evacuations in many coastal areas. They are planning new schools and retrofitting old ones to house larger evacuation populations.


Amy Sebring: Sandy, you are planning to do some training or give courses on this?

Sandy Eslinger: Yes. We are developing a training course to accompany the CD and we are thinking about developing a web-based training module.


Roger Kershaw: It seems to me that most communities are very well aware of the vulnerable areas, hazardous sites, essential buildings, and the like. Especially those in coastal communities, or other places with recurring natural disasters. In that light, what is this software designed to do that is not currently done by the community emergency planning leaders?

Sandy Eslinger: I think you are correct about many communities. They are especially vigilant about critical facilities. Many communities, however, give little or no thought to the broader range of social and environmental vulnerabilities. With just a little more effort, and using much of the same information, they can be more comprehensive in their approach and identify mitigation planning alternatives that do not always involve building or retrofitting structures. Hazard mitigation is expensive --- especially when viewed only from a structural standpoint.

Final Comment:

Amy Sebring: Sandy, although the focus of this is on hazard mitigation planning, I see this same data being extremely valuable for response and recovery planning as well.

Sandy Eslinger: I agree. One of the things that New Hanover County found valuable was this information provided a foundation for organizing their emergency response data.


Amy Sebring: We are just about out of time. Thank you very much, Sandy, and thank you, audience for your participation. Please stand by while we go to Avagene for upcoming events.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Sandy, thank you for an excellent session today. Very informative! I am sure a large number of people will request and use the CD-ROM.

I have several upcoming events to mention today, so bear with me.

Virtual Fire & Rescue Expo (VFRE)

First of all, would like to remind everyone to participate in the ongoing Virtual Fire & Rescue Expo (VFRE). The VFRE is sponsored by National Fire & Rescue magazine and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and is in its third year. The EIIP Virtual Forum is supporting the live chat portion of the Expo. You can participate in the VFRE between now and the final day of the Expo, December 6. The majority of sessions are conducted in the evening. See <http://www.vfre.com/chatprogram.asp> for the complete schedule.

Each session has a background page accessible from the "Interactive Workshops" link. While several of the sessions are specialized to the fire services, many are of a more general nature and should be of interest to the broader emergency management community.


This week -- Friday evening, December 3, 8:00 PM - 10:30 PM -- you are invited to join us for WEBEX II which is the EIIP contribution to the Virtual Fire & Rescue Expo (VFRE). The online exercise features the City of Pittsburgh. Relevant portions of Pittsburgh's Emergency Operations Plan and HazMat SOP, along with other information are posted in the Interactive Workshops area at <http://www.vfre.com/vfre_frame2.asp?pres=26>.

EIIP Round Table

Next Tuesday, December 7, 12:00 Noon EST, Leslie Little, Director of HELPU Advocacy & Consulting Fire and Life Safety, will be our speaker in the EIIP Round Table. The HELPU organization is a new EIIP Partner; we look forward to hearing from them next week and encourage you to be there as well.

EIIP Virtual Library

On Wednesday, December 8, 12:00 Noon EST, we are following through on something we have discussed for quite some time --- the presentation of student papers in the Virtual Library. We have a request out through the Higher Education Mail List and the International Emergency Management Student Association (IEMSA). We will announce the paper title and student author later. Plan to be in the session to hear fresh new ideas and support tomorrow's professional emergency managers.

Holiday Schedule

As a reminder, since the holidays are upon us, we will not conduct Virtual Forum sessions the last two weeks of December. Our last session for 1999 will be December 15.

That's it for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene. WEBEX is this Friday night, 8:00 PM EST. We may need some role playing help, so please join us if you can. I will have some further info posted later today. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are invited to remain to thank Sandy or for open discussion. You no longer need to use question marks.