What is Vulnerability Assessment?


japan-tsunami-deestructionThe terms threat, vulnerability, and risk are commonly mixed-up terms, defy consensus usage, and have many different connotations, depending on the research or perspective.

In order to understand the process of vulnerability assessment, as it refers to disaster preparation, one must fully understand these terms.

A threat can be defined as:

“anything that can exploit a vulnerability, intentionally or accidentally, and obtain, damage, or destroy an asset.”

A threat is what your trying to protect against. It is a natural or human-made hazard.

Vulnerability can be defined as:

“a weakness (structural, individual or procedural) of a threat from a potential hazard that can result in a detrimental impact to people’s well being and/or their assets”.

A vulnerability is a weakness or gap in protection efforts and can be affected by:

  • Proximity to a possible hazardous event
  • Population density in the area proximal to the event
  • Scientific understanding of the hazard
  • Public education and awareness of the hazard
  • Existence or non-existence of early-warning systems and lines of communication
  • Availability and readiness of emergency infrastructure
  • Construction styles and building codes
  • Cultural factors that influence public response to warnings

Vulnerability assessment is then defined as:

“the process of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing (assessing) likely negative impacts of threats from potential hazards to vulnerabilities that establishes realistic risk reduction goals, and allocates resources effectively – enabling decisive action before, during, and after a disaster to save lives, reduce losses, and support recovery.”

Risk is the intersection of assets, threats, and vulnerabilities and can be defined as:

“the physical and/or socio-economic potential for loss, damage or destruction of an asset as a result of a hazard threat exploiting a vulnerability.”

Risk is a function of threats exploiting vulnerabilities to obtain, damage or destroy assets.

Risk assessment is then defined as:

“the process of determining the physical and/or socio-economic potential for loss, damage or destruction of an asset as a result of a hazard threat exploiting a vulnerability.”

Vulnerability assessment has many things in common with risk assessment. Assessments are typically performed according to the following steps:

  1. Cataloging assets and capabilities (resources) in a system.
  2. Assigning quantifiable value (or at least rank order) and importance to those resources.
  3. Identifying the vulnerabilities or potential threats to each resource.
  4. Mitigating or eliminating the most serious vulnerabilities for the most valuable resources.

Vulnerability Assessment All Hazard Questions

Here are some vital questions you must answer to assess your vulnerability to all hazards:

  • Are you located in a high risk area?
  • Do you know the emergency warning signals and alert notifications used in your community?
  • Do you now where and have you instructed family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity to your house?
  • Have you made the necessary property preparations to reduce the damage from the hazard you might face?
  • Have you secured property and home (inside and outside) for all pertinent hazards?
  • Do you have a backup generator in case their is a prolonged power failure?
  • Have you purchased insurance (property, health, life, earthquake, and/or flood)?
  • Have you made the necessary financial arrangements in case of a sudden evacuation and a power outage shuts down local ATMs and banks?
  • Do you have important documents and records stored off-site in a safety deposit box or a portable lock box?
  • Have you performed a home inventory video taping the contents and stored the tape in a safety deposit box?
  • Does your family have an established Emergency Communication Plan and evacuation plan in place?
  • Have you completed a shelter-in-place Emergency Supplies Kit in case you have to shelter at home and you are without power?
  • Have you completed a mobile Emergency Supplies Kit that can serve as a “grab and go” bag?
  • Are you or someone in your family trained in first aid and CPR?
  • Have you made they necessary preparations for pets, seniors, and the disabled?
  • Do you know the emergency plans of schools, day care center, nursing homes or other places where members of your family might be?