for Elaborating a Community Risk Map
René Martorell, Rocio
guidelines are meant as a tool to help local communities and organizations
to produce a risk map that can serve as didactic material to prepare and
train community members on how to deal with the hazards and risks to which
they are exposed.
Its simplified format
makes it easy to use by local organizations as well as by the facilitators
and local staff of the institutions entrusted with disaster reduction
in a variety of sectors.
What is a Risk Map?
A Risk Map is a drawing
or even a scale model that identifies the location of high-risk areas
in the community as well as the chief settlements and works of infrastructure
that might be affected in the event of a disaster.
The Risk Map employs
symbols to identify certain places that serve as points of reference,
such as the Red Cross, the Health Center, the Police, the Firefighting
Brigade, churches, the Municipal Building, the school, the football field,
rivers that flow through the area, and so on. Certain colors are used
to indicate the level of riskfor instance, red for high-risk areas,
yellow for medium-risk areas, and green for relatively risk-free areas.
What Is the Value of Risk Maps?
- They make it possible
for all of us to participate. It is the result of how we all perceive
- By producing a
Risk Map, we get to know and identify the risks we face, helping us
to find solutions or take precautions.
- A Risk Map also
helps us to locate the major hazards that, combined with human activity,
- The Map provides
the authorities and local organizations with shared, joint criteria
for decision-making on the actions and resources needed to mitigate
the impact of disasters.
- The Map also helps
us to record historical events that have had a negative impact on the
community and the population, enabling us to prevent similar occurrences
in the future.
Who Can Participate?
All of us can participate
in the production of a Risk Map. No particular group should monopolize
the effort. Therefore, it is important to have enough time to do the job
properly, as well as the right place or places in which the largest possible
number of people can collaborate in a methodical manner.
Key stakeholders that
must take part in the process include the local authorities, members of
community organizations, community leaders, NGOs that provide services
in the area, professional and technical staff from public and private
institutions, local health personnel, teachers and students, and representatives
of the various groups in the community, whether formally organized or
How Do We Elaborate a Risk Map for the Community?
To eleborate a community
risk map, you need to take certain steps. Each step involves very specific
But bear this in mind:
The steps to be taken depend on the community and how organized it is,
as well as on the nature of the risks and hazards present in the area.
It is the community itself that must decide which procedures best fit
its own conditions, and which steps it should take to produce the map.
These, then, are the
steps or stages needed:
1) Organizing the
The first thing is to organize the work so as to find the needed information
and produce the community risk map.
- Convene a work
meeting. Invite the community, institutional representatives, local
authorities and the population in general to participate in the meeting.
- Explain the objectives
of the meeting. The essential thing is to accentuate the importance
of community preparedness and planning to confront emergencies.
- Analyze previous
experiences. The purpose is to allow participants to recall and voice
their memories of previous emergencies. This helps to motive participants
by making them aware of the importance of working together to prevent
emergencies and respond to them.
2) Discussing Community
Risks and Hazards
It is vital to spend some time explaining what risk is, what is a hazard,
what is vulnerability, and so on, so that all participants understand
and share the basic concepts. This will be useful later on, when a tour
of the community is undertaken to identify risks and hazards.
- Present the concepts
of risk, hazard, and vulnerability. This presentation must be carried
out by people who are technically qualified to do so.
- Identify, in general,
what the major hazards are. The idea is for participants to answer questions
such as, What are the major hazards affecting the community?
Of these, which is the most significant hazard we should bear
3) Preparing Guidelines
for Observation and Data Collection
It is important to produce guidelines to let stakeholders know what to
look for during their tour. Certain questions may be asked, such as the
- If a flood hit
this community as a result of an intense tropical storm or hurricane,
which community areas would be most at risk of suffering an adverse
impact? Which kind of infrastructure? Which settlements and groups?
- If a significant
earthquake hit the community, which community areas would be most at
risk of suffering an adverse impact? Which kind of infrastructure? Which
settlements and groups? Why?
For example, let us
consider the possibility of a tropical storm that could threaten the community
with severe floods. Thefollowing
questions might be asked:
- Which areas may
be flooded if there was a strong storm? Why?
- Which areas have
been flooded in the past in similar situations?
- Are there rivers
that might overrun their banks? Where would this be most likely to happen?
Are there houses in those places? How many are there? What kind of houses
are there? Are there domestic animals there?
- What instabilities
in the terrain might lead to an avalanche or landslide? Are there homes
or crops that might be directly affected by such a phenomenon?
- What homes or
neighborhoods in the community might be affected in the event of a flood?
Why? Is the risk obvious, or not so apparent? Why?
- What other structures,
such as bridges, walls, roads, or buildings might be affected?
- Is there a risk
of the community becoming isolated if connecting roads or bridges are
- What places would
suffer the greatest risk of adverse effects as a result of a flood?
- Which places might
be polluted as a result of a flood, such as water sources, landfills,
4) Touring the
Now, at last, everyone should be ready for a tour of the community to
gather information on the local risks and hazards, and on which places
might be used as shelters or security zones in the event of a disaster,
to care for the injured and the most vulnerable.
These are the steps to be taken:
- Establish groups
and distribute the areas to be surveyed. Groups should be made up of
five individuals or so.
- Define how long
the tour will take. Arrange for a specific time when all the groups
can come together and discuss their findings.
- Make sure each
group has a copy of the observation guidelines. This will ensure that
there is agreement about which hazards to pay attention to.
- Engage in intra-group
discussions. Each group may agree to meet by itself after the tour to
discuss the findings and consolidate them before meeting with the others.
5) Discussing and
Analyzing the Preliminary Results
When the groups have completed their tour of the community and collected
all the information, a Plenary Session must be held at a previously agreed-upon
time and place. There, the results must be discussed and analyzed, and
priorities must be assigned.
The steps to be taken may include the following:
- Present the information
collected by each group. Each group should explain what hazards they
found and what the risks are.
- Discuss the findings.
Have all participants discuss the findings, perhaps enriching them with
their own memories or observations of the places inspected by the other
groups, until there is at least preliminary agreement on what the major
6) Producing the
There are two possible ways of producing the Risk Map.
- Someone who is
skilled at drawing prepares beforehand a general map of the community,
showing the various settlements and landmarks. On this, the various
hazards would be drawn and, once there is agreement that all the significant
threats have been included, a final draft would be produced.
- Each group can
draw the portion of the community that they surveyed, identifying the
most significant risks. Then the Plenary assembles, puts the maps together,
discusses what is contained in each one, and a final, consolidated general
map is produced including the observations of all the groups.
As already noted,
these procedures are not ironclad. They can and should be adapted to the
way every community has traditionally organized itself. What is important
is that participation be high and include as many of the different groups
of stakeholders as possible, since the purpose of the exercise is not
only to produce a risk mapessential though this may bebut
also to raise awareness of the importance of disaster reduction through
prevention, mitigation and preparedness.