Hazard assessment to help plan emergency response

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018

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Wise County’s Hazard Vulnerability Assessment indicates that the hazard causing the greatest economic loss to the county and its citizens is wildfire.

The formal assessment, the first in many years or perhaps ever, was recently conducted by Wise County Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Powell and presented to county commissioners Oct. 22.

Powell said the assessment is a guidebook for local emergency planning, telling his office how to best prepare and how to prioritize funding.

“We identify and determine which hazards affect our jurisdiction, so we know what to prepare for,” he said. “When we identify what those hazards are, then we look at what effect they’re having on our community.”

Powell said data and statistics are used to rank the hazards to eliminate bias.

For example, North Texans are familiar with the threat of tornadoes and the devastation left in their wake. One might assume that is the greatest threat to the area, but Powell said this type of assessment looks at data to find out what hazards actually occurred in the county and the amount of damage caused in each incident.

“How much did this weather event cost, per citizen, per year?” he said.

Wise County dollar losses from January 1996 through December 2016 from each of 12 weather-related hazards were assessed. The data for wildfires was based on a 12-year base period, during which Wise County submitted information in only five of those years.

Even with limited data for wildfires, they still ranked highest, Powell said.

“When you look at events that have affected our community, the highest in numerical value is wildfire. It has the highest economic impact,” Powell said. “There’s only 12 years of data, based on national reporting systems and of that 12 years only 5 years of fires were reported for Wise County. If we had all 12 years, that number would be much higher.”

Based on the numbers in that timeframe, the projected annual per capita loss for January 2019 through December 2023 is $4.63 for wildfire, followed by $4.31 for hail.

Other weather hazards evaluated in the assessment include drought, riverine flooding, tornado, severe winds, winter weather, lightning, hurricane, coastal flood, cold and heat.

Winter weather and tornadoes were the third and fourth most significant threats, respectively.

In just 12 years, the total loss due to wildfires was $2.9 million. In the 21-year window, the damage from hailstorms totaled $5 million, winter weather was at $4.8 million and tornadoes came in at $4.2 million.

As part of the assessment, Powell also identified sites in the county that could be vulnerable to various types of attacks. This could be anything ranging from dams to financial institutions or critical manufacturing. He went over this list with commissioners in closed session, but it’s not part of the public document due to the threat of it being used to plan an attack.

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