Cover: Improving Assessments in Emergency Management

Improving Assessments in Emergency Management

Analysis of the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment and the Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

Published Mar 27, 2024

by Jason Thomas Barnosky, Andrew Lauland, Jessica Jensen, Susan A. Resetar, Sara Stullken, Jay Balagna, R. J. Briggs, Christy Foran, Emily Hoch, Kristin J. Leuschner, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. What are instances of overlap between the THIRA and HIRA?
  2. What is the burden of these processes on critical participants?
  3. Are the assessments responsive to current and future threats and hazards?
  4. After completion of THIRA and HIRA processes, how is the information used by relevant stakeholders?
  5. Are the selection of participants and execution of the THIRA and HIRA conducted equitably?
  6. Are the THIRA and HIRA processes meeting their intent?

Communities face increasingly frequent and intense storms, year-round wildfire seasons, simultaneous disasters, and human-caused threats, including cyberattacks, terrorism, and infrastructure failures. Existing approaches to documenting threats and hazards and assessing risk might not work as well as they once did. Moreover, the increased magnitude of weather disasters and unexpected threats, such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have strained many communities' capacities and resources. Communities therefore require tools to assess and prepare for the threats and hazards they might face.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requires two assessments for communities participating in certain grant programs: a threat and hazard identification and risk assessment (THIRA) and a hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA). A THIRA identifies likely hazards and threats that stress core capabilities, while a HIRA targets hazards and threats that could damage jurisdictional assets, infrastructure, and lifelines. FEMA asked the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center to comprehensively review THIRA and HIRA processes and offer options for improvement, including reducing burden on communities. Researchers also investigated whether THIRAs and HIRAs could be better aligned with one another or integrated into a single assessment. They evaluated overlap between THIRAs and HIRAs, burden on communities, responsiveness to threats and hazards, how THIRA and HIRA information is used, equity in assessments, and whether they achieve their intended purposes. In this report, they provide their findings and a series of options for FEMA's consideration for addressing them.

Key Findings

  • Overlap, or the lack thereof, could facilitate alignment.
  • There is significant burden associated with the two processes.
  • There are several opportunities to enhance the two assessments' responsiveness to the evolving threat and hazard environment.
  • Information use is limited in some cases.
  • There are several opportunities to support equitable outcomes.
  • THIRA and HIRA might not be fully achieving their intended purposes individually and with one another because of data and assessment quality issues, uneven participation in the process, and limited evidence that there are disconnects between the assessment and mitigation actions generated.


  • Align timelines for the assessments.
  • To reduce burden on state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) entities, align data collection processes for the assessments.
  • Develop a consistent approach for addressing climate change in THIRAs and HIRAs.
  • More purposely include equity in THIRA and HIRA processes.
  • Provide additional tools and guidance to help SLTTs address emerging risk.
  • Use risk matrices to help SLTTs prioritize among diverse threats and hazards.
  • Improve measurement of burden.

This research was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and conducted in the Disaster Management and Resilience Program of the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.