Tornadoes, high winds, flooding and severe storms ravaged parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois last December.
A new U.S. Census Bureau tool is helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gauge the number of people particularly vulnerable to disasters like these because they are more “at risk.”
The Community Resilience Estimates (CRE) tool provides an important metric to measure the risk of every neighborhood in the United States should disaster strike.
The CRE’s ability to provide a timely, precise and equitable measure of social vulnerability is particularly important for emergency management.
Having prior estimates of community resilience are vital to FEMA efforts: The CRE can help determine outreach services, the number and type of personnel to deploy and disaster assistance programs that can be activated to aid affected areas.
It can also provide insight into a community’s capacity to recover from a disaster, and where it will need the most help.
The tool designates “at-risk” populations by determining if a person has three or more factors that make them especially vulnerable, such as no health insurance, no vehicle, a disability or a low income-to-poverty ratio.
The CRE can help FEMA determine how many people may qualify for its Individuals and Households Program. The program provides financial and direct services to eligible people and communities with uninsured or under-insured expenses and serious needs affected by a disaster.
Of the estimated 525,191 people living in counties that FEMA initially determined to be impacted by the December storms, for instance, 25.5% are considered “at-risk” by the CRE, according to a recent analysis.
Individual assistance can include funds for temporary housing, repair or replacement of owner-occupied home, funds for an uninsured or under-insured disaster-caused expense and hazard mitigation assistance.
Additionally, the CRE can help FEMA determine communities eligible to apply to the Public Assistance Program, which aids state, local, tribal and territorial governments, and nonprofit organizations so they’ll be ready to respond to and aid communities in the event of major disasters or emergencies declared by the President.
The recent analysis also reviewed areas with FEMA eligibility to apply for public assistance. It found that 22.3% of an estimated 1,395,185 people living in housing units and certain group quarters were “at-risk.”
The Public Assistance Program aids with debris removal, emergency protective measures and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly owned facilities and some private nonprofit facilities. The program also provides hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process to protect damaged facilities from future events.
FEMA has made integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority.
The CRE’s ability to provide a timely, precise and equitable measure of social vulnerability is particularly important for emergency management. Recent reports and dashboards help make this information available to many data users.
The Census Bureau plans to continue to work with FEMA and other government agencies to best meet their data needs.
R. Chase Sawyer is a branch chief in the Census Bureau's American Community Survey Office.
Bethany DeSalvo is the Census Bureau's Liaison Officer to FEMA's National Response Coordination Center.
Tim Allen is a supervisory statistician in FEMA’s Recovery Directorate.