NOAA’s Interactive Tool Offers Community-Level Natural Disaster Risk Mapping | King and Spalding

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) recently released an update to its Disaster and Risk Mapping Tool which now allows users to assess the risks of natural disasters at the community level.


The Disaster and Risk Mapping Tool (the “Disaster Risk Management Tool”) now enables local governments, community members and businesses to visualize and analyze their exposure and vulnerability to events weather and climate extremes by census tracts, which are small county subdivisions of about 4,000 people. residents. Using these granular details, the disaster risk management tool identifies communities with socio-economic vulnerability and high risk of natural disasters.

NOAA assesses risk based on a community’s expected losses from natural disasters, the “social vulnerability” of that community, and the community’s resilience to natural disasters.

The Disaster Risk Management Tool provides census tract level risk assessments for the following weather and climate hazards, and compares them with county, state and national level data:

  • Risk of drought
  • Flood risk
  • Risk of frost
  • Risk of severe storm
  • Tropical cyclone risk
  • Fire hazard
  • Risk of winter storm

According to NOAAand in accordance with Biden administration policy focus on environmental justice, the disaster risk management tool also highlights where extreme weather and climate events can have disproportionate effects on populations that are “more vulnerable and less resilient” to disasters. In doing so, it uses the following socio-economic factors, which are similar to those used by the Biden administration’s environmental justice tools: EJScreen and the Environmental Quality Council’s Climate and Economic Justice Assessment Tool (“CEJST”):

  • Below poverty (% of population)
  • Income (income per capita)
  • No high school diploma (% of population)
  • 65+ (% of population)
  • Age
  • Disabled population (% of population)
  • Single-parent households (% of population)
  • Minority population (% of population)
  • Limited English (% of population)
  • Mobile homes (% of homes)
  • No vehicle (% of households)

NOAA’s Disaster Risk Management Tool can therefore be used by agencies, communities, project developers and businesses in collaboration with EJScreen and CEJST to focus on projected future risks associated with weather and climate disasters. , including those of climate change and sea level rise. These tools enable companies to assess the risk of disaster-related incidents and prepare accordingly. While these tools are useful to businesses in a wide range of industries, those with power generation facilities, refineries, chemical plants, factories, warehouses, and agricultural facilities in environmental justice communities should take special note of this.

For example, these tools can help companies assess the risk of extreme weather and climate events in their siting decisions for new facilities and the expansion of existing facilities. The tools also allow companies to understand the communities in which they operate or plan to operate, and the vulnerability of those communities to natural disasters. State and local governments can require companies to consider disaster risk and community vulnerability when applying for permits to build, expand or operate their facilities, and these factors are likely to become increasingly important. important in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). ), corporate due diligence and agency enforcement decisions.

Importantly, an early assessment of extreme weather risks can help businesses assess their operations, prepare for an incident, and update their response plans if necessary to mitigate the impact of an incident. Government agencies, including the Chemical Safety Board (“CSB”), have for years warned companies to assess the risks associated with extreme weather conditions and prepare for weather events.1 Similarly, at the request of the CSB, the Center for Chemical Process Safety (“CCPS”) has produced a guidance document to help industry prepare for extreme events such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes land and other natural hazards.2

Thorough assessment and preparation, regardless of industry, can help mitigate the impact of an extreme weather event on a facility, the surrounding community and the environment. They also help a company defend against government and private party claims in future litigation that the company failed to adequately prepare for a disaster despite publicly available information identifying the risk of disaster. a certain location for extreme weather and climate events.

Indeed, the availability of this information in NOAA’s Weather and Climate Disaster Risk Tool, in conjunction with the information in the Environmental Justice Screening Tools, can increase community engagement and risk. challenge permit applications, disaster-related disputes, and government enforcement actions, as communities, nonprofits, and individuals can now easily assess their risk from weather and climate events and link that risk to specific facilities.

Thus, companies would do well to study these tools and seek legal assistance in identifying and assessing the risks of weather and climate disasters in their operations, incident response planning and business decisions, especially in justice communities. environmental.