Collaborating to adapt HAZUS MH risk assessment methodology for Canada

By: Bert Struik

The Public Safety Geoscience Program (PSG) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is researching and developing methods and tools to assess risks of geohazard threats.  The tools make it easier for professionals responsible for reducing the potential impacts on people and property to rigorously quantify the hazard risk.  By adapting the US-based Hazus methodology for use in Canada, emergency planners, such as the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) teams, can better prepare for disaster response.

Increased emphasis on preventative disaster mitigation has recently been added to emergency response to further reduce disaster risk. Preventative disaster mitigation focuses on assessing disaster impacts to support decision-making. NRCan’s development will assist in providing more comprehensive, new planning tools for disaster response and safe community design.  Likewise, it will contribute different approaches to communicating geohazard science to a wider group of decision-makers.

Picture1Figure 1: A spatial representation of the economic consequences of an earthquake scenario modelled using Hazus.

Traditionally, information on hazard events and hazard potential has been communicated in terms of location and magnitude of a geohazard event.  We are learning that, for the most part, land-use decisions only loosely consider potential geohazard threats, because available geohazard information is not easily understood or practical. For similar reasons, most existing emergency response plans rely primarily on post-event impact reconnaissance information, which sometimes results in consequential delays. The gap between the scientific geohazard information and the practical information needed for planning and decision-making creates difficulty with stewardship over public safety.

To help address this gap, NRCan’s PSG Program, through its Quantifying Geohazard Risk (QGR) Project, is developing a computer-aided methodology to quantify the anticipated impacts and consequences of potential geohazards.  Through collaboration with Federal Departments and other partners, we are able to gain better understanding of the needs and operational requirements of priority end users.  Together, we are able to develop ways to seamlessly integrate that methodology within existing processes. As a result, more actionable information will be accessible to our stakeholders, bringing about a common understanding of what hazard potential might mean.

In this research project, we are adapting a spatial (map-based), standardized, state-of-the-art loss estimation methodology and computer model, Hazus, developed by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Hazus uses geographic information systems (GIS) technology and currently contains models for analyzing the risk from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.  The earthquake model has been adapted for Canadian application, and is presently available directly from NRCan.  The flood model is being adapted next.

Picture1Figure 2: Ken Murphy, FEMA Regional Administrator and Miroslav Nastev, NRCan / QGR Project Manager sign the Canada-US technical agreement on sharing and developing the Hazus-HM loss estimation software and methodology.

NRCan’s QGR Project promotes the capability and uptake of Hazus in Canada at the federal, provincial and local government levels as well as by the private sector engineering and geoscience professionals. Potential users are supported on a case study demonstration-basis to help them apply this tool for their emergency management, land-use planning, and engineering design needs.

One example of our collaborative work is the current interdepartmental and inter-jurisdictional preparation for the upcoming HUSAR planning exercise in Vancouver this October, 2012.  This work helps us to better communicate the potential consequences of geohazards from the Hazus model to the public safety decision-makers. User guides planned for next year document the most practical interpretation of the modelled potential impacts and consequences of a hypothetical earthquake scenario.  The model estimates casualties and shelter requirements; the extent of structural and environmental damage and amount of debris generated; and the costs of replacement and business interruption.

We expect that land-use planners, emergency managers, and engineering and geoscience professionals, tasked with making decisions about safety and damage mitigation, will be more equipped and able to do their jobs when hazard threat information, such as earthquake magnitude and level of ground shaking, is accompanied by the potential impacts on the built environment and the likely consequences for the people exposed to those hazard threats.  Likewise, by having a larger basis for common understanding of the available information and its limitations, various professional groups may be able to better collaborate on pre- and post-event planning and response approaches.

NRCan’s work, in collaboration with other Federal Departments, extends the capability of disaster pre-event planning and mitigation in Canada.  It is conducted within the context of an international technical agreement with FEMA (August, 2011) to share and co-develop the Hazus methodology.

Contact for more information and copies of Hazus for Canada:

Nicky Hastings, Risk Assessment Activity Lead

604-666-3955 nicky.hastings@nrcan.gc.ca