Place-Based Risk Mapping — An Agile Approach to Risk and Recovery by Leveraging the Power of Place

The built environment is a key factor in the battle against pandemics, especially as we head into winter.

The coronavirus continues to impact individuals, industries, and economies, challenging us all to find innovative ways to reduce infection risk, contain the spread, and improve recovery. As a society, we struggled with getting back to work, and now struggle with how to get back to learn, play, and really live. Approaches for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 have been mainly focused on individual-level behavior (e.g., wearing masks, washing hands) and policy-level strategies (e.g., social distancing, lockdown). A key yet often overlooked asset in this conversation is the built environment, the places where our lives happen. Only recently have we started understanding the deep impacts of buildings on occupant health. As the weather changes, even more of our time will be spent indoors- understanding the potential of the places we inhabit to keep us safe and healthy is critical.

To date, limited investment has been made in developing a comprehensive understanding of the unique risk profiles of the places we inhabit to minimize risk while maximizing economic recovery. At HKS, we believe that our recovery strategies must reduce both physical and psychological risks. Using a systems approach in the design and operation of our places can set the stage for a safe and prosperous return.

A place-based approach is anchored on the interface between humans and their environments to mitigate infection risk and inform value-based decisions.

At the core of this approach is the place risk profile: the potential for the transmission of the virus in a place through person-person, person-object, and person-environment networks. The place risk profile informs identifying the level of investment for short-term vs. long-term solutions customized to any facility’s unique needs and capacities. It can be easily revised in the face of ever-changing factors. At a macro level, risk can be considered a function of exposure and duration, which manifest in unique ways in different places.

Limiting exposure and duration of exposure are both key, and seven factors contribute to this.

  1. The type of activity and its likeliness to produce aerosolized particles (e.g., loud talking, cheering, singing, shouting or heavy breathing via exertion.)
  2. The time people spend, duration, in a certain place per the programed use.
  3. Density determined by how much spacing between people the layout allows and the volume of the space that can affect viral load.
  4. Ventilation within that space (humidity, air exchanges and filtration to ensure that contagious particles, if present, are regularly flushed out).
  5. The degree to which a space is used for circulation and flow of occupants.
  6. The number of shared objects that may result in people coming in close contact (secondary factor with less evidentiary support).
  7. The number of unique users that use the space.

Based on these factors, it becomes evident that different spaces have unique risk profiles that make it difficult to apply blanket strategies offered through guidelines and codes since such documents do not empower building operators to tailor strategies to their unique condition. The risk profiles also allow rapid optimization of space that can respond to different situations by following three simple steps:

1. Identify

  • Current policies and regulations based on relevant evidence.
  • Key activities and operations of each space.

2. Understand

  • Unique place-based risk profiles for each space based on the 7 factors
  • Feasibility of potential strategies using place and people analytics.

3. Determine

  • A comprehensive set of strategies based on feasibility and impact
  • A set of bundled strategies based on different scenarios and short-term, mid-term, and long-term returns.
Place-Based Risk Mapping Dashboard Prototype for a school

Business (and life) continuity demands an agile approach to safety and a commitment to long-term resilience.

Place-based Risk Mapping can quickly and effectively help leverage an organization’s strongest assets and meet fluctuating spatial demands while planning for long-term business and health resilience. We do it within a nested system for reboot readiness that takes into account policies and protocols, regulations, built environment and individual behavior, within a technology and communication eco-system, aimed at a safer physical and enhanced psychological/ emotional experience.

Based on a project’s unique needs and strategic priorities, a team can combine bundles of different strategies to achieve not just short-term recovery, but also long-term resilience. An agile approach allows us to focus on high priority spaces and activities, first, and consider both spatial/physical facility mitigation strategies as well as operational/business mitigation strategies simultaneously. In a sense, this approach helps to think through and adapt to different scenarios [including but not limited to COVID-19] and go beyond a one-size-fits all approach.

All institutions, organizations and buildings are unique. Risks and returns must be considered in a customized way by balancing the best available science with contextual analytics – place-based risk mapping helps to achieve that balance- especially now as we prepare for what could be a challenging winter.

For more information or an orientation workshop, contact Research or Babak Soleimani.

Research: Dr. Upali Nanda, Dr. Deborah Wingler, Dr. Babak Soleimani
Advisory: Michelle Jutt, Valerie Thompson
Indoor Environmental Quality: Dr. Tommy Zakrzewski, Dr. Mike Brown
Practice: Harsh Thapar, Shruti Jalodia, Niko Gjurchinoski, Joshua Walker, Leonardo Gonzalez
Wellness Certification Systems: Sakshi Jindal