5 Steps for Making a Personalized Threat Analysis

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threat analysisWhether you are just beginning with your preparedness or are a seasoned prepper, we have all experienced how overwhelming it is to plan for all the different possible events. Preparedness books and the internet can be a great tool for discovery and information, but it can also be a distraction. One of these distractions is the amount of information available and, along with that, the need one feels to be prepared for every possible disaster or disaster that might occur.

Why Do a Threat Analysis?

An accurate assessment of potential hazards and situations gives those just starting out and as well as those reviewing their plans valuable insights on what to plan for first. Once you know this, you can focus your attention where it needs to be. This saves both time and money.

The premise of a threat analysis is determining which events are most likely to occur so you can mitigate their effects as much as possible. By starting with the most likely disasters and events, you will be better prepared to meet these challenges. As you continue down your list, becoming better prepared for each event, your overall preparedness level will increase.

For example, a threat analysis will help you see that you should prepare for natural disasters like floods, storms, and earthquakes before less-likely scenarios like asteroid collisions, pandemics, and nuclear war. This is not to infer the latter are not possible, only that you are far more likely to be affected by the former. And if you are fully prepared for the first group, you are much closer to being prepared for other, less-likely events.

Proximity and Threat Analysis

To start your threat analysis, make a list of all the disasters, events, and situations that might occur in and around your location. Be sure to include applicable work and school locations for all your family members. For this part of the exercise, do not sort, group or organize – simply explore and write down everything you can think of. You can always add to your list later.

As you look over these potential threats, you will begin to see patterns emerge. There are several ways you can sort these threats and most people tend to sort them based on their type, such as natural disasters, man-made disasters, and so on. This type of grouping is easy to understand and remember, but does not lend itself to knowing which of these threats are most likely to occur.

image by martinluff
image by martinluff

At this point, consider which events will affect you more. This is best illustrated with an example. Let’s say there is a large earthquake in California and at the same time, your basement floods in Illinois. Which of these events is more likely to have a direct impact on you? Many people are suffering due to the earthquake in California, but you are much more affected by the flooded basement. In other words, proximity is everything.

It is important to keep in mind that proximity can lessen or increase the impact to you personally. Now, group your threat list based on which occur closer to you and will have a greater impact on you and your family. A good proximity list would include:

  • Personal – person, house, family, school, workplace
  • Local – neighborhood, town, city
  • Regional – county, state
  • National and beyond – country, neighboring countries, global

Now is probably a good time to put your list into a spreadsheet. You will soon be adding a few more columns of information to help you make decisions on which potential threats to focus on first.

Onset

Once you sort your threat list into the the above proximity list, create a new column and title it “Onset.” Then, for each item, mark it as either:

Rapid Onset or Slow Onset.

The onset of a threat is how fast it occurs. An earthquake occurs with no warning, while you may have several days notice of an approaching ice storm. Some disasters, like drought and currency collapses, can take years to occur. It is important to know the onset, as slow onset events allow for more time to prepare, while you will need to prepare differently for rapid onset events.

This step may take some research if you are not familiar with the onset of a specific event, but it is not time wasted. The more you know about disasters and crisis events, the better informed your decisions regarding them will be. Some people assign a numerical value to the onset with one (1) for slow and two (2) for rapid.

You may be tempted to add a “medium onset,” meaning an event that may or may not have a warning period. You are trying to avoid vagueness in your analysis. It is better to choose either rapid or slow, as marking an event as either “medium” or “possibly rapid” does not help with your decision tree on what to be prepared for. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Likelihood and Severity

There are two additional columns of information to add to your analysis sheet:

  • Likelihood of occurrence near you, personally
  • Severity of impact to you, personally

There are a number of ways of denoting this information, and you will need to chose which works best for you. Some people rank them from 1 to 10, some 1 through 5, and others 0 to 4. However you decide to rank these, make sure you implicitly understand the ranking when you look at it. You do not want to be referring to a legend or cheat sheet to remember what the scoring means, as the threat analysis needs to convey information intuitively to you.

Impact Score

The last column is the Impact Score. This is a number that is derived from the other information. In the example below, 1 is used for slow onset, as this will not change the score (Onset x Likelihood of Occurrence x Severity of Impact to You), and a 2 for rapid onset, as this will double the score, making that event stand out more.

Below, the impact score is obtained by multiplying the three scores together, creating an indexed score which is easy to visualize those events that will:

  1. Have a high likelihood of happening
  2. Greatly impact you or your family
  3. Give little or no warning before occurrence

When you finish with your threat analysis, it might look something like this:

Making a Threat Analysis Image Rob Hanus

Please note that this is only a sample analysis. It’s likely your assessment will have many more events listed.

In the example above, a scale of 1 – 5 was used for both the event’s Likelihood of Occurrence and for the Severity of Impact to You. Feel free to use whatever makes sense to you, though using letters should be avoided because it would be difficult to obtain an indexed score.

Prioritize Your List

Once you have the Impact Score, there are a couple of ways to prioritize your list. One quick way to find out which events to prepare for first, is to group the events by their score in descending order. When doing this, the top five events in this example are:

  1. Tornado
  2. Home fire
  3. Vehicle accident
  4. Storms, winter
  5. Property crime

Another way of look at the data is by arbitrarily setting a threshold on the score, say scores 21 and above are the highest priority, 11 through 20 are medium priority, and 1 through 10 are low priority. If we were to group the events along these boundaries, you would have the following three groups;

High Priority:

Medium Priority:

Low Priority:

Notice it is the common, everyday type of emergencies that are at the top of the list and not the often overly-hyped events that are often talked about on the internet. As it happens, these everyday emergencies are exactly the disasters and events you need to be prepared for first.

Making a threat analysis isn’t difficult, but it does take some time. The time spent should directly translate into being better prepared for the most likely problems, and wasting less time on highly unlikely ones.  This will leave you better able to protect and provide for your family during times of disaster and crisis.

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Rob Hanus is the author of several books, including, “The Preparedness Capability Checklist” and "Surviving EMP." He is also founder and host of the http://ThePreparednessPodcast.com/.

10 thoughts on “5 Steps for Making a Personalized Threat Analysis”

  1. Great article Rob, this kind of planning is well worth the effort and time it takes. I just wanted to alert people that your local city, county, and state emergency planners probably have done a “hazard analysis” for their Emergency Operations Plans, and their analysis is public record and available for the asking. They likely had the advantage of access to police, fire and emergency management pros with long memories to better pin down historical hazards in a particular area. This part of the “threat analysis” is the foundation of planning, as you have explained.

    Best Regards, Jim Acosta

  2. Good point, Jim. Also, insurance companies have extensive data on hazards, particularly about flooding. I just went through a fiasco with the mortgage company wanting more money because they thought we were in the newly remapped flood zones. My insurance company had a great amount of information on this and, together, we were able to prove my house is protected by the neighborhood planning.

  3. grammyprepper

    @JimAcosta, would one ask local government, police, or fire for these public records? Or would this be available from county government? @RobHanus, thank you for this informative article. This is just what I need to help me more closely focus my preparedness goals. Up to now, I have been focusing mostly on weather related issues, but more ‘global’ issues have me concerned as well.

  4. Most cities and towns have an emergency manager that you can contact and get info from. Your local fire department also probably has access to this data, or can tell you whom to talk to for it.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Acosta, that was great information! And the original article was fantastic, so thanks to Mr. Hanus. I was able to find a detailed hazard analysis report online through my county’s Emergency Management Department website. The reason I knew our county had such a department was their presence on Facebook.

  6. I did one of these about a year ago, afterwards I listed specific preps needed for each threat and 90% of it is the same, clean potable water, nutritious food, safe & warm shelter, medical supplies, and fuel for cooking and heating.
    The more specific (and least likely like pandemic, super volcano, nuclear war, etc) just requires an expansion on the basic areas of preparation and more safe guards.
    When it came down to it I decided to prep for life and whatever it may bring. Once I have my basics covered then I can get into long term and expanded preps. Keep in mind though that your plans for at home could all be for nothing if you have to leave (fire, flood, not safe etc) so having an exit strategy and portable preps should be a part of any and all plans. Consider what you would do if your home caught fire and all your food storage went up in flames, what if you worked from home too? Now you are out a job, home and all your back up plans. Having not only a go bag but some stuff stored elsewhere ( storage locker, friend or family members home, not connected building like a garage or shed (not good for food storage btw) could make a huge difference in comfort and the ability to get back on your feet sooner.

    Not all SHTF are doomsday and some don’t go any further than your own household. I have had to use my food stores way more often than I care to admit, gone through all our stored water more than a few times, had to break into the emergency fund and even had to stay with others a time or two. It was made a lot easier and we recovered a lot faster because of the preparations I made in advance. Knowing that makes me a lot more confident to keep doing what I’m doing, encouraging others to do the same and constantly find new ways to expand my knowledge and skills.

    Two thing to remember on that note are that while knowledge weighs nothing it’s useless without materials and materials are useless without the knowledge.

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  9. Excelente !!!! Desde Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sigo aprendiendo dìa a dìa. Respecto a los análisis de riesgos, en mi ciudad la información está disponible y fue de gran ayuda.
    Gracias por mantenernos atentos

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