International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Meetings & conferences on disaster reduction

In the Spotlight: Communities



Guidelines for Elaborating a Community Risk Map
René Martorell, Rocio Sáenz

These 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 risk—for 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 our situation.
  • 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, generate risks.
  • 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 not.

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 activities.

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 Work
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 in mind?”

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 following:

  • 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? Why?
  • 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:

  1. Which areas may be flooded if there was a strong storm? Why?
  2. Which areas have been flooded in the past in similar situations?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. What other structures, such as bridges, walls, roads, or buildings might be affected?
  7. Is there a risk of the community becoming isolated if connecting roads or bridges are damaged?
  8. What places would suffer the greatest risk of adverse effects as a result of a flood?
  9. Which places might be polluted as a result of a flood, such as water sources, landfills, etc.?

4) Touring the Community
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 risks are.

6) Producing the Risk Map
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 map—essential though this may be—but also to raise awareness of the importance of disaster reduction through prevention, mitigation and preparedness.