We are all at risk in a variety of ways in any type of disaster. Knowing your risk factors can help you to prepare and plan in advance of an emergency.
Three types of factors are the common reasons why people are at risk in a disaster. The first factor is likelihood of exposure. Second is likelihood that you could be susceptible to illness or life-threatening situations because of exposure. Third is your ability to do activities that would be necessary for you to remain healthy in a disaster. We often refer to these as functional abilities.
There are many ways that a person could be exposed. Geographic location is often a factor. For example, depending on where you live, you might have higher likelihood of exposure to flood water inundation after a coastal storm. Another form of exposure is your likelihood of coming into contact with other people during a disease outbreak. For example, if you are a medical professional, a home health care worker or a family caregiver you may have greater likelihood of exposure to some illnesses, such as pandemic influenza.
Susceptibility refers to a person’s likelihood of experiencing illness or loss of life. Planners at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene look to determine which people in our communities have higher rates of adverse health outcomes when exposed to a disaster. For example, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant, or have a pre-existing medical condition such as respiratory illness may be more likely to have adverse health outcomes if exposed to pandemic influenza. This means that recommendations during an emergency may be different for someone who is more susceptible to illness than the general population.
Functional ability refers to whether a person can do the necessary tasks during an emergency to remain healthy. Actions a person might need to do in a disaster include receiving and understanding public announcements, locating and traveling to a location where disaster health services are being provided, managing stress and being able to self-monitor for adverse reactions to medications. The Health Department aims to identify those who will have difficulty in particular emergencies and looks to provide additional assistance and/or guidance to help these individuals.
The Health Department conducts the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment (PDF) every five years to determine which public health threats are most likely to exceed the City’s response capabilities. Results from this assessment allow the Health Department to identify where additional planning and investment will have the most impact.
The current assessment was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Department will use experiences from the pandemic response to inform the next assessment and better protect the health of New Yorkers every day and in times of emergency.