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Assess Impact and Damage Post-Emergency

After an emergency or disaster, it is essential to understand the impact and extent of the damage in the community. This information is then used to determine priority activities for recovery.

There are many types of assessments that typically follow a major emergency or disaster event. These assessments are led by and involve different partners and sectors. The types of assessments conducted usually depend on community priorities and goals.

Types of Assessments

Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are important during the planning phase. They identify potential hazards, assess what could happen if a hazard occurs, and evaluate existing conditions of exposure and vulnerability that could harm people, services, livelihoods, and the community. Following an emergency or disaster, risk assessments may help communities consider and identify any new or emerging risks to the community that should be addressed in the recovery phase.

Rapid Post-Disaster Needs Assessment

After an emergency, it is crucial to assess what the community needs, based on input from its members, and determine next steps for recovery. A rapid post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) typically focuses on determining damages to community infrastructure, impact on service delivery, and recovery costs. The goal of the PDNA is to understand how to meet the immediate needs of the community, not to return to a state of pre-disaster. Within weeks of the disaster, communities should involve key partners from healthcare, emergency management, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, local leaders, and others in direct contact with the community.

Partners can support quantitative and qualitative assessments that are part of the PDNA process:

  • Quantitative assessments can include physical damages, service delivery, and economic costs.
  • Qualitative assessments can provide information on community needs and immediate priorities, with a focus on addressing overall quality of life in the community.

Damage Assessments

Quantifying damages is an important step in recovery to understand the extent of the disaster's impact. Damage assessments help determine and document the magnitude of damage caused by a disaster. These may be done by partner organizations at the individual, community, and state levels. Individual-level damage assessments examine damage to homes or personal property and may be conducted by insurance companies or nonprofit organizations, such as trained volunteer teams from the American Red Cross. Community-wide or statewide damage assessments examine damage to infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, and public utilities) and community service delivery institutions (such as hospitals, governance buildings, and public services).

The information gathered through a damage assessment may be useful for accessing partner assistance, including funding. For example, a damage assessment is needed for determining if a Presidential disaster declaration is warranted.

If a disaster in a local community has caused enough damage that it is clear a disaster declaration will be needed, then local officials should coordinate with their state to contact their FEMA Regional Office and request a joint preliminary damage assessment (PDA). A joint PDA should include federal, state, and local government representatives. Rural communities can expedite the process of conducting joint PDAs by compiling information on the geographic area and populations affected, values associated with damage and displacement, availability of housing, and other resources and assistance.

Impact Assessments

An impact assessment is similar to a needs or damage assessment but offers a more holistic approach to evaluation. An impact assessment examines potential and actual mid- to long-term effects of a disaster and how the community can build back better to a pre-disaster state. More emphasis is placed on the qualitative impacts of the disaster, and the impact is examined across all community sectors. An impact assessment should address the community's health, infrastructure, economy, social structure, and environment. Not only are impact assessments helpful for the affected community, they are also useful in sharing lessons learned with neighboring areas.

Resource Considerations

Post-disaster assessments require involvement from all sectors in a community, so it is important to partner with other organizations. Establishing relationships with key partners before an emergency event occurs will facilitate collaboration when post-disaster assessments need to be done.

Examples of potential partners include:

  • Community representatives
  • State and local officials
  • Insurance companies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Local universities or academia

Partners can provide technical knowledge, equipment and technology for data collection, databases to store the information collected, and communication materials. Involving partners will help communities implement these assessments in a timely and effective manner in the post-disaster stage.

Resources to Learn More

Evaluation and Risk Assessment
Provides an overview of the evaluation support provided by the USA Center for Rural Public Health Preparedness at Texas A&M University. Examples include the Texas Public Health Risk Assessment Tool (TxPHRAT), an Excel-based program designed to systematically assess public health risks and hazards at the county level, create a mitigation planning process for TxPHRAT at the state level (to support state-level mitigation efforts), and conduct table-top exercises for high-consequence infectious diseases within 11 health regions across Texas.
Organization(s): USA Center for Rural Public Health Preparedness

FEMA Damage Assessment to Public Works Toolkit
Identifies resources for each stage of assessing disaster risk and response. It also provides examples of various types of assessments described in this module.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Post-Disaster Needs Assessments: Volume A, Guidelines
Provides a detailed overview of the post-disaster needs assessment process as well as sample documents and templates to support it.
Organization(s): Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, The World Bank
Date: 4/2017