Prepare For Hurricanes with Data on Resiliency and Vulnerability

Ocean Waves Slam Boardwalk inFlorida Hurricane

[Author’s note: This post was written prior to Hurricane Ian making landfall and focused on data in the Tampa Bay Area. Note that this data is available for all of the United States and can be used in any community that has been affected by this tragic storm.]

Data for Emergency Management Preparation

The Atlantic hurricane season is the period in a year from June through November when tropical cyclones usually form in the Atlantic Ocean. As the United States braced for Hurricane Ian to make landfall this week, our team thought about the emergency management officials readying for their response.

A number of indicators in PolicyMap can help emergency management officials identify which communities may have the most difficulty dealing with the natural disaster, including the Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities (BRIC) and the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). BRIC gives an indication of a community’s ability to plan for and recover from events likes floods and hurricanes, while SVI flags areas that may be in greatest need of support and recovery assistance. Locating the most vulnerable areas and understanding local community assets and risks can help emergency management prioritize efforts.

Current models show the western coast of Florida will bear the brunt to the storm, with potential landfall likely in the Tampa Bay area. Large portions of Florida’s west coast and the Tampa Bay region sit in high or moderate flood zones as identified by FEMA. A number of these communities have been evacuated.

The two maps that follow show areas most at risk of flooding (as shaded in red and yellow) in the southern portion of Florida and then, more zoomed in, for the Tampa Bay area.

Resilience Along the West Coast of Florida

The U.S. National Academy of Science defines disaster resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” Disaster resilience is becoming increasingly important as the climate changes, and data tools like the Baseline Resilience Indicators for Communities index can provide a starting point for prioritizing needs during a catastrophic event and for building communities that are more resilient to natural hazards.

Developed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, BRIC considers six categories of community disaster resilience: social, economic, community capital, institutional, infrastructural, and environmental. Community disasters may include floods or hurricanes in the context of BRIC. The overall resilience score is calculated by summing the category scores. Scores can range from 0 to 6, where higher scores correspond to higher overall resilience.

The map below shows the overall resilience for counties in southern Florida. Scores in this area fall in the middle of the range for counties in the United States. In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough County has a score of 2.72, while Pinellas County has a slightly lower score of 2.65 – suggesting this area is moderately resilient.

Florida’s Social Vulnerability

The Social Vulnerability Index from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) allows us to dig deeper in the Tampa Bay area and identify which communities may be in most need of assistance during a disaster. Social vulnerability refers to populations that are particularly vulnerable to disruption and health problems because of natural disasters, human-made disasters, climate change, and extreme weather. The Geospatial Research, Analysis, and Services Program (GRASP) within the CDC created the SVI to help flag areas that may be in greatest need of support and recovery assistance in the case of a disaster or extreme weather event. The index is comprised of four categories of vulnerability—socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing and transportation.

As can be seen on the following map, many communities in the region, highlighted in purple, are flagged as either high or moderately vulnerable to a disaster such as a hurricane.

Assets and Risks

Within high and moderate risk areas sit any number of assets that emergency management officials can consider when preparing for and assisting after a hurricane. These include, for example, hospitals, churches, and libraries where people may take shelter or gather during natural disasters. The map below shows the locations of these assets within the Tampa Bay Area.

Additionally, the location of certain types of facilities like Brownfields and Superfund sites as seen by red icons on the map below, can, if compromised by flooding, pose health risks for people working their way through flood waters as was the case in 2017 with Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Zooming in on specific areas, like Clearwater below, can additionally allow planners to identify the specific toxic sites that sit within high and medium risk flood zones as seen in red and yellow on the map below and potentially prioritize the protection of these communities.

Access BRIC and SVI Data

Interested in digging deeper into your community’s resiliency and social vulnerability? Fill in the form below for a personalized demo of PolicyMap.