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Alaska Risk MAP

Assistance to Imminently-Threatened

Alaska Native Villages


Over the last several decades, the number of presidentially-declared disasters in Alaska has increased dramatically, as illustrated in Figure 1, below 1. The majority of these disasters are caused by flooding associated with severe storms.

Declared Disasters

Most of these events have occurred in the Bethel, Kusilvac and Yukon-Koyukuk census areas (see Figure 2). These census areas are comprised of small, remote, predominantly Alaska Native communities. The communities are especially vulnerable because all three census areas are part of Alaska’s vast unorganized borough where there is no borough form of government to provide services and other resources to address disaster events. Only 9 of the 87 Alaska Native villages within these two census areas participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). 2 Nearly half of the villages within these census areas are ineligible to participate in the NFIP because they are not incorporated municipalities 3. Storm events are increasingly putting these communities at risk to loss of life and property. Recent studies indicate that the frequency and intensity of these storms is likely to increase, especially in western Alaska. 4

Borough Census

State and Federal agencies have been concerned about the impact of flooding and other natural hazards on the safety and viability of Alaska Native communities for some time. Several key observations and needs have been identified through these efforts:

  • Assistance to imperiled communities should be based on a fair and defensible methodology which prioritizes communities by level of threat and need
  • The community must be a key player in the decision-making process
  • Imperiled communities (and the agencies assisting them) need quantifiable data from which to make informed decisions
  • A coordinated, interdisciplinary approach to address community threats is essential to increasing community resilience

A briefing paper prepared by the State of Alaska Risk MAP Coordinator, " Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning: Assisting Alaska Native Villages ", summarizes these efforts and looks at ways in which the tools, resources and technical assistance offered through FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) Program could enhance local understanding of risk in Alaska Native villages and inform local decisions to take action to increase disaster resilience in these communities.

Understanding risk and having reliable data from which to make informed decisions to take action to reduce or mitigate risk is crucial to community-driven efforts to increase disaster resilience.


Developing a Risk MAP Strategy to Assist

Imminently-Threatened Alaska Native Villages

A community does not have to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to be involved in the Risk MAP Program. Although the regulatory products of the Risk MAP Program, Flood Insurance Studies and Flood Insurance Rate Maps, apply to NFIP-partipicating communites, many of Risk MAP's non-regulatory tools and products can be of great benefit to non-NFIP communites who are dealing with the impacts of natural hazards and environmental change. Below is a summary of what the Risk MAP process might look like for these communities:

Pre-Discovery

FEMA and the State will work with the Alaska Native village to understand the needs, resources, and capabilities to support the community in risk reduction and resilience efforts. Ideally, the Risk MAP process would be tied with the Hazard Mitigation Planning update process. The Data Collection and Analysis Phase will begin prior to the Discovery Meeting and continue afterwards once the needs of the village are identified (see Post-Discovery Data Collection and Analysis, below).

Discovery Interview

A telephone interview will be conducted with various stakeholders (regional, state, federal) to share current information, current and past projects, historical knowledge, and to identify who the best people are to attend the in-person Discovery meeting.

Discovery Meeting

The State Risk MAP Coordinator and a few key stakeholders will conduct an in-person Discovery meeting in the village. The purpose of the Discovery Meeting is to gather information on the community’s perspective about local natural hazards and their risk. This information will be used to prioritize risk and vulnerability assessment, and mitigation planning assistance.

Considerations for the meeting include:

  • Need for interpreter in villages where English is the second language
  • Number of stakeholders attending (We don’t want to outnumber attendees)
  • Culturally-appropriate ways to present information
    • Community gathering/potluck
    • see Discovery Report suggestion under Risk MAP Products and Tools, below)

Post-Discovery Coordination and Project Scope Development

This will be a collaborative effort to identify how we can meet the community’s resilience needs and how we can align FEMA’s effort with other ongoing efforts.

Post-Discovery Data Collection and Analysis

During this phase of the project, funding will be secured, local multi-hazard data will be collected, and risk and vulnerability assessments will be conducted to evaluate the nature, immediacy, probability and severity of each hazard.

Data Collection and Analysis will be a collaborative effort between a number of stakeholders in order to meet the community’s resilience needs. The discussion should include:

  • Ways to incorporate local/traditional knowledge with science
  • How to incorporate local observation as part of the process. Both the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys have local observer efforts and there is real value in training local observers to document change throughout the study process.

Risk MAP Products and Tools

Discovery Report: a supplement to the report would be more helpful for many communities. DCRA has found that providing a map-sized document which can be hung in a public space, allowing community residents to gather and discuss is often more useful than a multipage report. The traditional Discovery Report could still be prepared to meet the needs of agencies. An example of a translated document can be found here: https://silverjacketsteam.nfrmp.us/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=6b_0S-nFCso%3d&portalid=0

Resilience Meeting

The Resilience Meeting provides the community with the opportunity to meet with subject matter experts to discuss how the information, tools and products of the Risk MAP process can be used to inform future planning efforts, reduce risk, and increase local resistance to disaster. A decision on next-steps to implement resilience actions is key to this meeting.

As with the Discovery Meeting, it may be necessary to have an interpreter and to hold the meeting in a community gathering/potluck format. Use of visuals outlining next steps (that can be left in the community) are helpful.


1 Data acquired from http://www.fema.gov/disasters/grid/state-tribal-government/86

2 The six communities are Aniak, Bethel, Kwethluk, Galena, McGrath and Nenana.

3 To participate in the NFIP, communities agree to enforce regulations for land use and new construction in high-risk flood zones. In Alaska, municipal incorporation is required for land use regulation.

4 Terenzi, John; Ely, Craig R.; Jorgenson, M. Torre (2014): Storm-surge flooding on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. In Arctic 67 (3), pp. 360–374. DOI: 10.14430/arctic4403. See also: http://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/4403

For more information contact:

Sally Russell Cox

State of Alaska Risk MAP Coordinator
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1650,
Anchorage, AK 99501-3569
Phone (907) 269-4588
Fax (907) 269-4539
Email: sally.cox@alaska.gov