Environmental Public Health Tracking: Community Characteristics Data

Community characteristics can include information about an area's natural features, such as how much land is covered by forests or water, and its human-made features from types of housing and roads to locations of hospitals, schools, or other public service buildings.

Understanding community characteristics, including resources and vulnerabilities, can help public health professionals

  • Identify threats, hazards, and at-risk populations
  • Evaluate potential impact of threats or hazards within the context of a community's population, climate, built environments, infrastructure, and resources
  • Determine potential resource needs and public health actions which could lessen or prevent sickness, injury, or death in the event of a public health emergency

Access the community characteristics data

Looking over the neighborhood homes with trees and downtown buildings in the background, Milwaukee

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In the section below, there are frequently asked questions about community characteristics in general.

How are community characteristics related to public health?

Understanding the characteristics of a community is important for public health practices such as program planning and epidemiologic studies. Community characteristics are particularly important in public health emergency preparedness.

A key step in preparedness planning for any disaster, whether it be radiological, chemical, or natural, is identifying a community's

  • Most common hazards
  • Most vulnerable populations
  • Available resources
  • Ability to respond

Understanding local infrastructure, vulnerabilities, and resource availability allows public health professionals to quickly establish priorities and take action during the emergency or disaster response.

Why does Wisconsin Tracking track community characteristics?

Community characteristics data on the portal currently include types of housing and households; how many homes are located in flood zones; number of people or households with access to internet; whether an area is urban or rural; and whether land is developed, used for agriculture, or covered by forest. Additional community characteristics indicators and measures will be added as they become available.

By tracking these community characteristics we are better able to:

  • Identify households or areas of the state more likely to be affected by a public health emergency
  • Determine the amount of available resources within a community
  • Calculate the amount of resources needed for a public health response or for public safety

What is the data source?

Flood vulnerability

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - National Flood Hazard Layer
  • Landscan USA Nighttime population estimates

Households

  • American Community Survey 5-year Estimates

Internet Use

  • American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. All data for this indicator are derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder site.

Land Cover

Land Use

Which topics does Wisconsin Tracking have for community characteristics?​

Please note that not all topics are available at both the census tract and county geographies.

  • Flood Vulnerability
    • Number of housing units within FEMA designated flood hazard area
    • Number of people within FEMA designated flood hazard area
    • Number of square miles within FEMA designated flood hazard area
    • Percent area (square miles) within FEMA designated flood hazard area
    • Percent of hospital beds within flood hazard area
    • Percent of hospitals within flood hazard area
  • Households
    • Number of housing units
    • Number of housing units with 10 or more units
    • Number of housing units with more people than rooms
    • Number of housing units with no vehicle available
    • Number of mobile-home housing units
    • Number of people living in group quarters
    • Number of renter-occupied housing units
    • Number of vacant housing units
    • Percent of housing units with 10 or more units
    • Percent of housing units with more people than rooms
    • Percent of housing units with no vehicle available
    • Percent of mobile home housing units
    • Percent of renter-occupied housing units
    • Percent of vacant housing units
    • Percent population living in group quarters
  • Internet Access
    • Number of households with a smartphone
    • Number of households with a smartphone, but no other device
    • Number of households with income less than $20,000 without an internet subscription
    • Number of households with no internet access
    • Number of people age 25+ years, with low education who have a computer without internet subscription
    • Number of people age 65+ years who have a computer without internet subscription
    • Number of people with access to a computer with internet, but no cell phone
    • Number of unemployed people aged 16+ years who have a computer without internet subscription
    • Percent of households with a smartphone
    • Percent of households with a smartphone, but no other device
    • Percent of households with income less than $20,000 without an internet subscription
    • Percent of households with no internet access
    • Percent of people age 25+ years, with low education who have a computer without internet subscription
    • Percent of people age 65+ years who have a computer without internet subscription
    • Percent of people with access to a computer with internet, but no cell phone
    • Percent of unemployed people aged 16+ years who have a computer without internet subscription
  • Land Cover
    • Average percent of developed imperviousness
    • Percent of land covered by forest
    • Percent of land covered by water
  • Land Use
    • ​Classification of county from rural to urban (six category scale)
    • ​Classification of county from rural to urban (two category scale)
    • Percent of land used for agriculture
    • Percent of land used for development

What are some considerations for interpreting the data?​

There are numerous considerations to keep in mind when interpreting the data. Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Tracking Program Indicators and Data webpage for additional information.

Select the content area from the drop down list e.g., Community Characteristics. Then select the specific indicator you are interested in from the drop down list, e.g., "Flood Vulnerability."

Where can I learn more about community characteristics?

Last Revised: June 30, 2020