The 5 Steps of Threat Analysis

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FEMA buildingThe Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is responsible for America’s national security and emergency response. FEMA personnel are the security and emergency government professionals that tirelessly protect the country against threats, both man-made and natural. From providing relief to earthquake or hurricane victims, to developing innovative cybersecurity methods, FEMA’s mission is to protect America’s critical infrastructure and its citizens.

FEMA created, and continuously updates, the framework that is used to identify and plan for national disasters. Through research, testing and the perfection of unique threat-based strategies, the agency has determined the most efficient way to analyze threats. It is a five-step process that can be utilized by emergency management professionals to create a successful response plan. Additionally, these steps may be applied in both the private and public sectors.

Step 1: Identifying Threats

Before emergency management and safety professionals can establish a plan, they must identify the possible threats and disasters they may face. This is a particularly important step because identification is implemented at the community, local and regional levels. Different geographical areas of the United States face greater risks than others. As a result, emergency plans must appropriately take into account the most present and likely dangers.

Threats can be categorized as natural, technological and man-made. Natural threats originate from the environmental and geographical variables that differ from area to area. These may include fires, hurricanes or earthquakes. Technological threats may impact cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, power generation and supply, or transportation systems. Man-made threats are largely defined as intentional harm by a person against others. These can include terrorist attacks, arson and other civil disturbances.

To identify threats, safety professionals can gather data and information from previous events. Media sources, the National Weather Service and local community residents can provide ample information regarding past events. Once the information is accumulated, it can be organized and analyzed.

Steps 2 and 3: Profiling Threats and Developing a Community Profile

Step two involves cataloging identified threats into profiles that include more detailed information. The profile should include the type of threat that is identified, the probability of its occurrence, any relevant history, and its consequences. Preparation is key in emergency management and threat analysis. This places key importance on the proper collection and organization of detailed information.

After the threat profile is created, a community profile of similar design is created. By cross-examining the information, a more refined projection of potential threats can be developed. A community profile is comprised of such details as the geography, property, infrastructure, demographics and first responder presence within the area. These details reveal the potential damages that could occur and serve to guide the preparation of response plans.

Safety professionals can utilize these community details to predict hazards, identify available resources, assess points of vulnerability, prepare evacuation routes and improve response speeds. These findings then set the groundwork on which to compare and analyze threats.

Step 4: Determining Vulnerability

In step four, emergency management professionals use threat profiles in tandem with community profiles to analyze threat factors and prioritize response systems. The analysis will identify the most present threats by comparing the community’s vulnerabilities with the threat’s damage potential. Depending on the preparedness of the community and the probability of the threat, response priorities can be set and severity ratings established.

The threat analysis steps as outline by FEMA suggest that the order of rescue priorities should take into account life, then essential facilities, followed by critical infrastructure. Life is unequivocally the most important priority during a disaster. Once people in the affected area are safe, first responders can secure essential facilities such as hospitals and the like. The final priority is critical infrastructure. This includes protecting utility systems, communication grids and road systems. Critical infrastructure is the connective tissue that allows citizens, safety professionals and first responders to effectively implement an emergency management plan.

Also crucial to any emergency plan is communication before, during and after a disaster. This can help the community or affected area prepare efficiently as well as adapt their actions according to the latest situation. Warning systems that use a predetermined severity rating can provide people with enough time to seek shelter or evacuate. A negligible rating is the least severe, predicting minimal injury and damage with no projected loss of life. A limited rating means there may be severe yet temporary injury, and shutdown of critical infrastructure for a time (usually a week). A critical rating predicts hospitalization and permanent injuries, as well as substantial property damage and critical infrastructure shutdown of at least two weeks. The most severe rating is a catastrophic event. This rating projects multiple deaths, debilitation of the critical infrastructure for a month or more and massive property damage.

Step 5: Creating and Applying Scenarios

The final step involves the creation and application of disaster scenarios. Emergency management and safety professionals, government leaders and first responders design scenarios that reflect the most ominous and likely threats. These scenarios are intricate and realistic enough to mimic an actual event. To achieve this, the scenarios include the initial warning, predicted community impact, possible trouble areas, the response to damage, finite resources and possible consequences. These scenarios are tested repeatedly with different variables and are updated with new information so the threat analysis is always ahead of the actual threat.

Creating an Emergency Plan

The process of threat analysis is part of FEMA’s framework for emergency planning. The agency provides comprehensive guidelines for creating efficient, effective emergency plans that can be used in both the private and public sectors. By having these and similar plans already organized throughout the U.S., communities and businesses can improve their response to disasters, including their systemized communication and cooperation. FEMA’s safety professionals are ever vigilant. They constantly update their emergency plans to best serve the safety of the country.

Learn More

Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.

Recommended Readings

5 Questions to Assess Your Crisis Management Plan

4 Important Grant Programs for Emergency Preparedness and Relief

How the Department of Homeland Security Can Use Virtual Reality for Disaster Response Training

Sources:, “About the Agency”, “Emergency Planning”