It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

—Sherlock Holmes From A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)

Risk assessment is the foundation of the emergency management program. A properly conducted risk assessment allows program elements to be based on a realistic appraisal of the types of risks a community is likely to face. It allows the identification of scenarios based on realistic assumptions and provides justification for the commitment of program resources. It highlights opportunities for mitigation. It is the first step in the problem‐solving model: a realistic definition of the problem.

In assessing risk, it is important to use a structured process to ensure that no potential threat to the community is overlooked. It is not uncommon for one to assume that the only serious hazards are the obvious risks that “everyone” knows about. It is also common to see crisis planning driven by what is known among emergency managers as the “flavor of the month”: the threat that is currently the focus of the media and/or the public. The single biggest problem in risk assessment, however, is the common mistake of assuming that the hazard is the risk. A hazard is a dangerous event or circumstance that has the potential to cause an emergency or disaster. The hazard itself may not necessarily present a risk to a community. It is the vulnerability ...

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