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Assessing Jurisdictional Risk

A thorough all-hazards JRA can help a jurisdiction determine what its highest frequency/highest impact risks are.

One of the most important and often underused aspects of emergency management is the jurisdictional risk assessment (JRA). A JRA is the assessment of the past, current and future risks to the health, safety and property of the people within that jurisdiction. Too often, emergency managers either use recent history that they have experienced for their planning or use another similar or nearby jurisdiction’s risk assessment, which may be flawed.

There are several purposes for performing a thorough all-hazards JRA. First, it can allow a jurisdiction to determine what the highest frequency/highest impact risks are. This will be based on research into historical events in the jurisdiction, review of current threats and the rise of potential future risks.

A second purpose, related to the first, is that performing a thorough JRA allows for the best use of limited resources. As emergency managers, none of us has the resources we would like, especially in planning and response. Therefore, we must prioritize our resources and where they can be used the most efficiently. A JRA allows us to know, instead of guess, where to place these resources.

Finally, a JRA will allow for efforts in relation to working with partners, including neighboring jurisdictions. Those who have similar risks often find themselves responding together.

Performing a JRA can be an achievable goal. It may seem very complex, but it can be done and be manageable. So how do we accomplish this?

First, a committee would provide much benefit for this task. A committee could be formed as an ad hoc version or could be done through a Local Emergency Planning Committee or another type of emergency planning group. This committee should have representatives from all agencies that fall within the jurisdiction. For example, in North Carolina, local emergency management would lead the JRA process. However, members of this committee would include fire departments, hospitals, health departments, law enforcement, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters agencies, emergency medical services, etc. This is vital so the JRA would cover all hazards and have many different subject-matter experts providing information.

Second, through this committee we must identify all hazards of concern. This is done by the agencies considering what they have experienced in the past, new concerns that have developed and any other concerns that agencies have within their jurisdiction. This will likely become a large, comprehensive list, which is generally created most easily through hosting a workshop to develop it.

The next step is to give the hazards listed in the previous paragraph a context of concern. An easy way to do this is to categorize the hazards into one of four categories:

•  High Impact, High Frequency
•  High Impact, Low Frequency
•  Low Impact, High Frequency
•  Low Impact, Low Frequency

Simply put, we classify how much of an impact the hazard could cause. For example, for the southeastern states we could classify a hurricane as high impact because the potential for damage and lives lost is great. 

The next step is establishing capability targets. This is done first through the determination of the hazards and what capabilities they fit into. FEMA’s capabilities can be found on its website. From there the committee will build one capability target. The purpose of the capability target is to have an objective to meet that will aid in building the preparedness level for that hazard. 

Finally, the results would be applied. By doing this we are going to perform tasks such as estimating resources needed to meet the capability target. Work could include things like typing resources. This would be the items that would aid in achieving the capability target.

David Hesselmeyer serves with Buies Creek, N.C., Fire Rescue and Harnett County EMS. He can be contacted at or visit his website at