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For Immediate Release: Jan 25, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FLYING BLIND – OUR NATIONAL RISK ASSESSMENT STILL UNDER WRAPS

Unseen 2015 Analytic All-Hazard Assessment Designed to Inform Planners & Public


Washington, DC — America’s Strategic National Risk Assessment undergirds our ability to respond to emergencies and should be available to everyone, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). That assessment looks at the entire range of potential natural and human-caused catastrophes – from hurricanes to terror attacks – in order to guide public decision-making on infrastructure investment, disaster recovery, civil defense, and related matters.

In 2011, President Obama directed creation of a formal national preparedness goal and system. A key component is compiling a Strategic National Risk Assessment, a purely quantitative tool to support an all-hazard, capability-based approach to preparedness. The assessment seeks to answer three basic questions:

  • What can go wrong?
  • How likely is it to happen?
  • If it does, what are the consequences?

An unclassified version was completed in 2015 but has not yet seen the light of day. After months of waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reply to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the 2015 assessment report, including its technical findings, guidance, and implementation plan, PEER filed suit in federal district court to force their release.

“Forewarned is forearmed is not just an old adage, it is the premise of our national preparedness posture,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Strategic National Risk Assessment is supposed to be in the hands of emergency managers, infrastructure operators, public health planners, insurance companies, and other stakeholders, as well as the public at large, not sitting on a shelf.”

FEMA’s National Preparedness Goal proclaims that –

“All levels of government and the whole community should assess and present risk in a similar manner to provide a common understanding of the threats and hazards confronting our Nation.”

A political complication is FEMA’s stance that climate change needs to be a part of any risk assessment because “climate change has the potential to adversely impact a number of threats and hazards. Rising sea levels, increasingly powerful storms, and heavier downpours are already contributing to an increased risk of flooding. Droughts and wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe in some areas of the country.”

“The hurricanes of 2017 should have made clear that the U.S. can no longer prudently pretend that our climate is not changing,” added Ruch. “We cannot afford to ignore major risks simply because they might carry political baggage.”

PEER argues that the public needs to see not only the risk assessment itself but also its technical foundations, so that the evidence behind those conclusions is subject to critical examination. That stakeholder scrutiny would enhance both the credibility and the utility of any hazard-specific findings.

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Read the PEER complaint

View scope of the Strategic National Risk Assessment

See our National Preparedness Goal