Every community in the U.S. should have a climate resilience plan
An assessment is a critical part of that plan—and should include these three key elements to make it effective
Communities across the Unites States are increasingly engaging in climate resilience planning to better address threats such as flooding, sea level rise, wildfire, and other events. Assessments are widely conducted, and accepted, as a critical part of this planning process.
Planners and practitioners, however, employ a host of different approaches when conducting these assessments. There are few standards or guiding principles detailing what an assessment should provide, or — and perhaps more importantly — how an assessment can be used in these planning processes.
A resilience assessment can help a community understand the unique problems it faces, and can help it move beyond assessment into identifying and prioritizing targeted strategies to build resilience. While working with communities, we try to highlight the role assessments have in resilience planning, focusing on the notion that an assessment shouldn’t be viewed as an end to itself. Rather, it should empower the community by informing the planning process.
We’ve found that three key elements go a long way towards providing a successful assessment. More importantly, they help equip communities with the information and insights they need to move past the assessment and into designing strategies to actually build resilience.
1. Assessments should be both USEFUL and USEABLE
While this seems like a no-brainer, it is the most important element to keep in mind—especially if you’re a researcher or scientist.
Let’s unpack that a little bit:
- There should be transparency in how the assessment is created. If decision makers—the people in the community who can assign resources to address these issues—are given a black box, they won’t be able to use it.
- Communities should be part of the assessment process.
- Assessments should be tailored to the unique characteristics of each community.
The result is an assessment that develops a shared understanding among participants—perhaps the single greatest value an assessment can provide.
2. Assessments should be based on the concepts of VULNERABILITY and RISK
Each component of vulnerability and risk provides important insights about how to build resilience. It also allows decision makers to focus on the most vulnerable and at-risk people and assets and to prioritize their actions according to their level of risk aversion.
Vulnerability provides insight on how susceptible people or assets in a community are due to the potential impact they face (the degree to which they could be affected) and their adaptive capacity (their ability to cope or withstand).
Risk can tell a community about the likelihood and consequence of a threat occurring.
Together, these concepts of vulnerability and risk can provide a foundation of information needed to build resilience.
3. Assessments should integrate SOCIAL VULNERABILITY
Community resilience is about people. Considering socially vulnerable populations recognizes the root causes of vulnerability in our communities and those that are disproportionately impacted by climate threats and hazard events.
- Social vulnerability is an important consideration for all threats.
- Social vulnerability can be included as a key determinant of vulnerability in resilience assessments and can be highlighted in how assessments are communicated.
We also use the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index when conducting vulnerability and risk analyses to highlight different types of social vulnerability:
We’ve found that communities face two major types of uncertainty when dealing with resilience: they aren’t sure which threats and changing realities they face, and they don’t have a standard process to follow that ensures that they’re addressing all of the issues they need to.
Using a standardized process based on a quantified assessment lessens that uncertainty, allowing communities to develop options to address their most vulnerable and at-risk assets and prioritize those options based on data and fact—not conjecture.