To effectively respond to major incidents, you must first identify the potential hazards at your facility. - Creative Commons

To effectively respond to major incidents, you must first identify the potential hazards at your facility.

Creative Commons

In order to establish a successful training program to respond to major incidents you must first identify the potential hazards that could face your facility. The process of identifying potential major incidents can be challenging as opposed to smaller incidents.

Many of the smaller incidents, such as minor hazardous materials spills or injuries, are responded to on a relatively regular basis by that particular facility or by industry as a whole. In the case of major incidents, be aware of the potential for a particular hazard due to the scarcity of incidents that are considered high-impact, low-probability (HILP) events.

Since this was written during the week preceding and completed on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I will offer as background, policies that were put in place to strengthen the preparedness of the United States to prevent and respond to threatened or actual domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies,” in response to those attacks.

I will than examine the FDNY’s response to both the attacks and the policies as it pertains to hazard assessment.

Although inspired by those terrorist attacks, the aforementioned policies are designed with an all-hazards approach in mind. National Presidential Directive 8: National Preparedness(HSPD-8) was issued and, in response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the Interim National Preparedness Goal. This goal prioritized efforts to strengthen the nation’s preparedness. The Strategic National Risk Assessment (SNRA) was the first step toward achieving this goal.

This assessment evaluated the risk from known threats and hazards that have the potential to significantly impact the Nation’s homeland security.” This assessment was conducted by looking at only national-level events. To be considered a national-level event the event had to exceed specific economic consequences in some categories, while in other categories the number of fatalities or injuries was the determining factor. Not until this assessment was conducted could further action take place.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks the FDNY developed its Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness (CTDP) which has several branches, one of which is the FDNY’s intelligence branch. In response to the policies set forth by the federal government, the CTDP wrote the Fire Department City of New York, Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness Strategy.

In order to carry out this strategy effectively, the FDNY determined that it would have to understand the potential threats it could encounter. These could only be understood through a proper risk assessment, much like a local version of the SNRA. Part of this assessment was carried out by the development of the Risk Assessment and Target Hazard (RATH) Unit a branch of the CTDP.

This unit identifies hazards and conducts risk assessments of NYC’s critical infrastructure and key resources, identifying target hazards, prioritizing preparedness efforts and developing tactical response plans for specific structures. While the efforts of the CTDP are focused on potential major incidents, all fire companies in NYC identify and assess hazards specific to their response areas.

FEMA has many assets available online to assist with planning for disasters in general and hazard identification in particular. Many of these assets are designed for use on a federal level and the majority are for government use; but there are still many such as FEMA’s Local Mitigation Planning Handbook ( that provide clear step by step instructions for hazard identification.

Risk assessment, of which hazard identification is a part, is just one of the steps mentioned in the handbook to plan for these events; but it is the one that I would consider to be the foundation for developing a training program to effectively respond to a major incident.

As per this manual, the four steps of a risk assessment include: 1) identify hazards, 2) identify assets, 3) analyze risk and 4) summarize vulnerability.

1) Identify Hazards. In the section on identifying hazards, resources to identify natural hazards such as: the National Climatic Data Center, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the RiskMAP program are identified. These assets look at the history of events in certain areas and predict the probability of future events.

In addition to the numerous assets identified in this handbook, FEMA has created HAZUS-MH. This software program estimates potential losses from earthquake, flood and hurricane hazards. Loss estimates produced are based on current scientific and engineering knowledge regarding the effects of earthquake, flood and hurricane hazards.

In addition to natural hazards, technological hazards (industrial accidents) and human-caused threats will have to be identified. While technological hazards are accidents, such as a hazardous materials incident, human-caused incidents, also known as threats, such as a chemical or cyber-attack are done intentionally.

These are identified by conducting a Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). A good reference for this is FEMA’s Integrating Manmade Hazards into Mitigation Planning (

2) Identify Assets. Once you have identified the hazards you have to assess your assets in order to ascertain how the hazards will affect them. Some of the assets you will have to assess are:

  • People – protecting life is always the first concern.
  • Built environment this includes structures and infrastructure with a focus on critical facilities.
  • Natural environment – these are your environmental issues an example of which would be the oil spill in the Gulf.

3) Analyze Risk. This is looking at the hazards present and determining their potential effects on the assets present. Resources to assist you such as the previously mentioned HAZUS-MH are identified.

4) Summarize Vulnerability. This step is pretty self-explanatory. The data that comes out of the analysis can be very technical. This data must be summarized into an easily understandable user-friendly format.

In setting up a training program, it is important of identify potential hazards and to conduct a risk assessment of the potential impact of these hazards to a facility. In order to conduct training, a team must know what it is are training for and plan accordingly.

Never forget.

James Kiesling is a Captain with the Fire Department, City of New York’s Special Operations Command. He holds as AOS in fire protection technology from Corning Community College, a BS in fire and emergency services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an MA in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School.