The Rockefeller University

We define a Community Risk Profile (CRP) as a resource, continuously updated with new data, that makes conveniently available to a range of users the spectrum of information that characterizes the environmental and health status of a community. The CRP offers a vehicle for understanding and acting upon the spectrum of local health and environmental concerns. It is both a management information system and the process that creates it. In general, CRPs should aim toward comprehensiveness, consistency, and integration in assembling and analyzing data on health and environmental risks at the local level.

New information technologies can handle large quantities of environmental, health, and demographic data efficiently and thus offer greater analytic power for researchers and improved access to knowledge and services for communities. Antecedent efforts at creating CRPs reveal the scarcity of adequate and accurate data at the community level and emphasize the need to improve the knowledge base to interpret them. A case study of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, demonstrates the possibility–as well as the difficulty–of developing CRPs given the current availability of data at the local level.

Participation of community representatives and stakeholders provides local knowledge and is essential for sound and credible CRPs. A case study of Silicon Valley, California, demonstrates the importance of community participation and offers a framework for community participation in the development of CRPs.

Federal, state, and local governments have shown interest over the last decade in comparative risk assessment at finer spatial scales. CRPs build on experience in comparative risk assessment but avoid the divisive and sometimes questionable emphasis it places on ranking risks. Government can advance the development and utility of CRPs through policy levers that promote an integrated view of risks, encourage and facilitate more local analysis, and enhance local authority for reducing risk.

By enabling communities to understand better the problems facing them, CRPs can help provide more cost effective services to satisfy local needs. To clarify their problems and promise, and to spur their establishment as a standard practice and their subsequent diffusion, we recommend the development of four to six thorough and ambitious experimental community risk profiles in diverse locations in the United States.