Initial Publication Date: April 8, 2014

Hazards, Vulnerabilities, and Risks in Kittitas County

Pamela McMullin-Messier, Department of Sociology, Central Washington University


Besides potential earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, well-known and experienced hazards to Kittitas County, WA include wildfires and floods. Students are often very much unaware of these hazards in their college community and the various resources that are available. For this project, students research how to map the hazards and vulnerabilities for their local area and conduct a social survey of their community's perceptions and knowledge about hazards in order to examine vulnerability and risk and develop mitigation strategies to develop resilient communities.

Individuals with expertise/responsibilities in the following areas have helped create the case study:

  • City of Ellensburg
  • Kittitas County
  • Washington State
  • Emergency Responders
  • Red Cross
  • Environmental Protection Agency

Key teaching points:
As mentioned in the Social ecology course syllabus, students apply their knowledge learned about the various theories of disasters, risk society, and environmental justice and conduct a research project on examining hazards, risks and vulnerabilities in their surrounding community. Students evaluate relevant geological and local government data to create maps and conduct a social survey on knowledge and perceptions of hazards and risks. The summative assessment for this project is having students evaluate the data and present their findings to a potential stakeholder in the community, to demonstrate how to communicate hazards, risk and mitigation of these factors.

How this example is used in the classroom:
Students (in groups) develop three series of maps: one map where they identify hazards (using the below city, county and state level resources), another map where they identify vulnerabilities (using EPA - EJ view), and the third map is where they overlay the hazards with the vulnerabilities to assess levels of risk. Using the risk map and results from the social survey (see supporting files), groups select a potential stakeholder (school, retirement home, hospital, community group, etc.) and create a PowerPoint presentation to outline mitigation and resiliency strategies. It is helpful to invite stakeholders in order to give students a firsthand account of how communities are affected. For example, a volunteer from Red Cross visited our class to discuss the outreach they conducted in assisting with communities affected by fires and flooding.