Comparatively speaking, emergency management is a fairly new field. There is still a great deal of information to be uncovered and best practices to be developed. This can be rather daunting or exciting depending on your point of view. There are often opportunities to make improvements even in established practices, such as hazard identification and risk assessment. Hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA) is regarded to be the foundation of an effective emergency management program as shown in the Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario (Emergency Management Ontario, 2010).
The revision of the HIRA provided the ideal opportunity to seek out new ways of improving the methodology. One of the ongoing issues in emergency management is the need to integrate knowledge from practitioners and academics since each side can provide invaluable insights. To pull from both areas, a literature review was done that included both scientific journal articles and research and current risk assessment practices. This was followed by an extensive consultation process that included subject matter experts on each of the hazards and Ministry Emergency Management Coordinators within Ministries that had Order in Council designations. The outcome of this was the identification of gaps in many current risk assessment practices and potential solutions that could be built into the new HIRA.
The first gap was the identification of new hazards. In some instances these were emerging hazards, like geomagnetic storms that were not previously included due to a general lack of awareness of their potential for damage. Others, such as cyber-attacks, had not been previously differentiated from other categories of hazards. A third hazard, natural space object crash, was added after further consultation with a subject matter expert established that this hazard had a very different frequency and potential impacts from the already identified human-caused space object crash.
The second gap was the ability for a risk assessment tool to be proactive. Many risk assessments are based on historical data. While historical data is important in any risk assessment, it does have limitations. The main issue is that the past is not always indicative of the future. Factors such as climate change, changes in technology, and changes in vulnerability result in significant alterations in risk profiles and are not captured by using solely historic data. Another limitation with historic data is that it often fails to adequately capture hazards with long return periods, especially when the historic records only go back a couple hundred years. While a HIRA is not intended to be a predictive tool, it is required to present a current view of the hazards and risks. To address this, a third variable was added to the standard risk = frequency*consequence equation in the Provincial HIRA methodology. This third variable, ‘changing risk’ attempts to include factors such as changes in vulnerabilities and anticipated changes in frequency.
The third gap was the need to include psychosocial impacts. The damaging psychosocial impacts of disasters have been well documented in the scientific literature (i.e.Gleser et al. 2013, Warsini et al. 2014). However, a review of current risk assessment practices found that this impact is rarely included, despite being well accepted as an impact of disaster. Psychosocial impact was added as a subcategory of the consequence variable in the revised methodology to ensure its inclusion.
Overall, the ability to draw from knowledge from both practitioners and academics was immensely beneficial. It allowed for the identification of gaps in the previous methods and provided solutions that resulted in a more accurate picture of the risk. The integration of these two areas of knowledge is what allowed the revised methodology to become recognized as a best practice. Further opportunities to draw upon both areas of expertise should be explored within emergency management as it can result in a more effective and complete product.
Emergency Management Ontario. (2010). Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario. Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Government of Ontario.
Gleser, G. C., Green, B. L., & Winget, C. (2013). Prolonged psychosocial effects of disaster: A study of Buffalo Creek (Vol. 25). Elsevier.
Warsini, S., West, C., Res Meth, G. C., Mills, J., & Usher, K. (2014). The psychosocial impact of natural disasters among adult survivors: an integrative review. Issues in mental health nursing, 35(6), 420-436.