A traffic light street sign in high flood water.

Take Action

The National Risk Index is a dataset and online tool intended to better inform, engage, and assist the public in understanding natural hazard risks. With better understanding, communities can identify and engage resources, plan accordingly, and take action to reduce risks.

Learn about how the Risk Index can help

Understand Risk in Your Community

Unlike traditional risk assessments that address one hazard type at a time and target only the most vulnerable areas, the National Risk Index combines multiple hazard types with community risk factors to provide a holistic view of risk for each community nationwide.

To decrease your community’s risk, you first need to understand the driving factors. According to the National Risk Index, higher Expected Annual Loss, higher Social Vulnerability, and/or lower Community Resilience increase your overall risk.

Use the interactive National Risk Index Map and data to assess your community’s risks across hazard types and help identify which hazard types are driving your community’s risk profile.

Assess Your Needs

After determining the National Risk Index scores and ratings for your community, assess your needs. Even if your community is not at high risk from a national perspective, there still may be significant concerns and gaps to address. It is important that you determine and address the gaps that exist between your community’s baseline, relative understanding of risk provided by the National Risk Index, and the uniqueness of your risk when considering the characteristics of your community and its experience with natural hazards.

Identify and Engage Additional Resources

After assessing your needs, identify and engage resources to help you fulfill the identified needs.

Reduce Your Natural Hazard Risk

Once you are prepared with the necessary resources, it’s time to reduce your natural hazard risk. Recommendations provided are relevant to all planners, emergency managers, and decision makers for whom the National Risk Index is intended.

Illustrative Example

If you need an example to help you determine how to take action, read the example below about how Washington County leveraged the National Risk Index. *

How Washington County Leveraged the National Risk Index

The following narrative is fictional and was written for illustrative purposes to help National Risk Index users understand recommendations on how to leverage the Risk Index to take action and reduce natural hazard risk. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned. However, the events, communities and characters involved are fictional. Any similarity to any event, community, or person is merely coincidental.

Like many others in the United States, Washington County has experienced its share of natural hazards. In recent years, natural hazards had caused extensive damage to homes and disrupted daily business operations. During some of the more severe hazard events, medical and other critical facilities were severely impacted, especially in their ability to serve their communities.

Understanding Washington County’s Risks

Washington County officials made it a priority to better understand the natural hazard risk to their communities. Officials discussed that flooding was their primary hazard type of concern. They reviewed available, historic mapping and analyses, which provided some information for consideration. However, the information was limited in detail and timeframe, lacking anything useful from the past decade. Also, anecdotal community knowledge suggested data on demographics and critical facilities in the county were severely out of date. As a result, they were only able to identify general zones of high risk with a low level of certainty. In addition, they could not clearly specify which communities would be most impacted if a flood were to occur.

Their perspective of risk changed when a county official discovered the National Risk Index. Using the National Risk Index map, they were able to identify and understand which Census tracts in the county were at high risk of flooding along with other hazard types they knew their communities previously experienced. The National Risk Index helped the officials understand their community’s high-risk areas at the Census tract level, which was more detailed and useful than the general areas identified before. They were also able to find out which Census tracts had historically experienced the most hazard events for each of the 18 hazard types included in the National Risk Index and how much damage each Census tract had suffered over the years.

Assessing Washington County’s Needs

It was clear to officials that there were drastic differences between what they thought they knew about their county’s risk and what was provided by the National Risk Index. After exploring more of the National Risk Index, they learned about its source data, methodology, and, most importantly, its assumptions and limitations. The National Risk Index increased their knowledge and data available for their communities, but to effectively support decision making and actions to best prepare their communities for mitigating natural hazards, they decided that more recent and localized information was still needed. To their dismay, local resources were not available to fully support such an effort; and truthfully, they didn’t know exactly where to begin. Fortunately, the National Risk Index website provided recommendations on what type of resources could be contacted for assistance.

Identifying and Engaging Additional Resources for Washington County

A Washington County official reached out to their state’s hazard mitigation officer for help with protecting their communities from flooding. The officer informed them about resources and funding opportunities available from FEMA. Given the county’s needs for up-to-date, localized data and information, the officer recommended FEMA’s Cooperating Technical Partners Program in particular. Among other things, the officer also recommended that they use Hazus before and/or after collecting any new data to model and predict impacts, and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as a resource to share with communities most at risk for damage or loss due to flooding.

Reducing Washington County’s Risk

The county applied for and received a grant from FEMA’s Cooperating Technical Partners Program and used the funding to engage and pay experts to collect data and remap its highest risk areas at the community level. The National Risk Index was used to prioritize the data collection effort by first focusing on Census tracts shown to be most at risk. Once the maps were generated, the officials were able to detail the communities most at risk and in immediate need of flood insurance. The county prioritized these communities during the outreach effort about the NFIP.

With the help of experts, the officials then used the collected data to run hazard analyses in Hazus, giving them the ability to understand the potential impacts from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis. The collected data, generated maps, hazard analyses, and National Risk Index risk profiles for the county and its Census tracts were combined. With the help of experts, the county and its communities prepared a new risk assessment. A mitigation plan soon followed, empowering county officials to decide where to plan and move forward with mitigation projects for its communities. Unlike ever before, the county officials were informed and prepared to protect their communities by mitigating natural hazard risks.

*Washington County is a fictional location, and its story is a fictional narrative written for illustrative purposes only.