Homeland Security and Emergency Services

Disaster Assessment Guidance


The purpose of this Standard Operating Guide (SOG) is to provide a standard format and organization for the collection and reporting of disaster assessment information in New York State. It is intended to guide and coordinate efforts by local, county and state officials participating in disaster assessment.


This guidance is based on the assumption that a coordinated, comprehensive disaster assessment by local, county, state and the federal government provides the best opportunity to support local and state decision making during disaster response and recovery and will most effectively address disaster management and assistance requirements.

This guidance is based on existing policy in New York State that places responsibility for disaster assessment on local government. It also assumes that local assessment will be coordinated at the county level, usually under the leadership of the county emergency management office -- which will assign assessment duties, when necessary, to a county assessment leader or team that reports to the emergency manager.

It is also the policy in New York State that the State Emergency Management Office (NYSOEM) will provide guidance. NYSOEM or other appropriate state and federal agencies will provide support and technical assistance, where possible, to counties in their disaster assessment efforts.

Assessment Goals

  • To provide timely and comprehensive information on the scope and impacts of a disaster
  • To support effective emergency decision making at local, state and federal levels
  • To keep the public accurately informed
  • To develop and support requests for disaster resources and recovery assistance

The Basics

  • First and always, assessment must focus on immediate emergency needs for life, safety, protection of property and essential services.
  • Assessment for federal aid programs is an important goal of the process, but follows the evaluation of emergency needs.
  • Assessment resources and activity must be assigned to address human needs as well as government costs.
  • Forms and structure are important to good assessment, but the keys to success are leadership, organization and management.

The Essentials


  • Assign an assessment leader or coordinator
  • Activate leader early as the response begins
  • The leader's only task is to manage the assessment
  • The leader supports, but cannot be the emergency manager


  • The leader needs help - a partner or team
  • People must be reassigned from routine work, regular jobs and other departments to support the assessment effort
  • Divide the tasks - establish a human needs group and a public services group
  • Organization and work early in the response will ease the demands of recovery assessment later

Immediate and Continuous

  • Activate assessment staff immediately as the response unfolds, or even when a threat is imminent
  • Early information is crucial and the reporting process is continuous
  • Capturing an early overview and quickly targeting life/safety issues is vital - details and dollars come later
  • Resist the urge to hold and wait for better, more complete information - parts of a report at intervals are often more helpful than waiting for a complete report
  • Reporting at regular, frequent intervals is good, but pass along important information immediately

Assessment - Steps and Stages

  • Early impact assessment
  • Assessment of needs and resource priorities
  • Assessing the need for federal aid
  • Preparing for the preliminary damage assessment

Structure and Format

  • Good assessment is done by making personal contacts with knowledgeable officials by either telephone or local visits
  • Assessment is not about submitting, faxing or mailing forms. Forms are good for structuring your task and can serve as a checklist, but they do not replace asking the right questions, discussing issues and concerns.
  • Simply sending out a form and asking them to return it will produce incomplete and poor results and has proven to be too slow.

Informed Estimates

  • Decision-making in a crisis cannot always wait for complete data and detailed reports - good estimating is the key.
  • Estimating is not guesswork - informed estimates means contacting knowledgeable officials about their evaluation and judgment of local conditions and impacts.
  • Informed estimates by knowledgeable local leaders - supervisors, highway/public works, engineers, fire officers, and the Red Cross - typically provide reliable assessments useful to emergency operations.
  • Informed estimates are a credible tool that helps meet the pace and urgent demands of providing emergency services.

Flexible and Adaptable

  • Assessment demands and priorities can differ from disaster to disaster.
  • Timing cannot be predicted - the process usually moves more quickly than expected.
  • The pace of the assessment is not determined or controlled by NYSOEM - it is influenced most by the need for resources and support, particularly local demands for State and federal resources and programs.
  • Information needed is not always reflected in the forms - special requests are common.
  • In some instances, data requested on a form may be crucial, at other times the same data may not be needed.
  • Requests for more detail are common, but sometimes a step may be skipped.

Working with the Red Cross

  • The Red Cross assessment is a valuable tool for assessment leaders, but cannot replace or substitute for a human needs assessment program by local government.
  • The Red Cross assessment provides information useful in the county assessment, but the Red Cross assessment is specifically intended to evaluate the need for Red Cross programs and services.
  • Red Cross should have a key role in your assessment efforts and is vital to your human services program.

The County Role and Local Coordination

  • The county is generally responsible for consolidating and coordinating the collection of assessment data provided by county departments, municipalities, community organizations, other agencies and services.
  • Unless other arrangements have been made, each department, municipality or service is responsible for organizing and conducting their own assessment.
  • The county leader or team provides advice and assistance to other officials and facilities in preparing their assessment.
  • Every community and organization should have an assessment capability; however, for earlier impact and needs assessments, it can be as basic as a county representative contacting communities, departments and others - then simply include the findings in a county report.