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Climate Change & Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework

1 Introduction

Climate change vulnerability in the transportation context is a function of a transportation system’s exposure to climate effects, sensitivity to climate effects, and adaptive capacity.

Exposure refers to whether the asset or system is located in an area experiencing direct impacts of climate change, such as temperature and precipitation changes, or indirect impacts, such as sea level rise.

Sensitivity refers to how the asset or system fares when exposed to an impact.

Adaptive capacity refers to the systems’ ability to adjust to cope with existing climate variability or future climate impacts.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA's) Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework (hereafter, "the framework") is a guide and collection of resources for use in analyzing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on transportation infrastructure. Its purpose is to identify key considerations, questions, and resources that can be used to design and implement a climate change vulnerability assessment. The processes, lessons learned, and resources outlined in the framework are geared toward State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and other agencies involved in planning, building, or maintaining the transportation system. It includes suggestions and examples applicable to a wide range of applications, from small qualitative studies to large, detailed, data-intensive analyses. The resources included in the framework will be added to and updated over time.

The framework is informed by and draws examples from five climate change vulnerability and risk assessment pilot projects that the FHWA sponsored in 2010-2011 (hereafter, "the 2010 pilots"). The 2010 pilots were undertaken by State DOTs and MPOs to implement an earlier version of the framework, which the FHWA termed the "Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Conceptual Model." The conceptual model was meant to serve as a flexible guide for the 2010 pilots to test these basic steps and for the FHWA to obtain feedback on the suggested process. This updated framework uses the experiences of the pilots to provide some examples of the "how to" of the assessment. The 2010 pilots were:

The framework also draws from the FHWA's Gulf Coast Study, Adaptation Peer Exchanges, Federal Transit Administration adaptation pilots, and other work. For more information on each of the pilots and other efforts, seeAppendix A, or the FHWA's 2010 pilots website.

The vulnerability assessment framework consists of three primary components, as shown in Figure 1 and described in more detail below:

  1. Defining objectives and scope.
  2. Assessing vulnerability.
  3. Integrating vulnerability into decision-making.

Vulnerability Assessment Framework

Title: FHWA's Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework Diagram - Description: This diagram graphically displays the components of FHWA's framework. The first main component at the top of the diagram is to define scope. It includes three subsections: 1. Identify Key Climate Variables including climate impacts of concern and sensitive assets & thresholds for impacts. 2. Articulate objectives including: actions motivated by the assessment, target audience, products needed, and level of detail required. 3. Select and characterize relevant assets including consideration of: type, existing versus planned, data availability, and further delineation. The center of the diagram illustrates the next main component of the framework, assessing the vulnerability, and its six subsections. The subsections are displaed in a circle and include: collect & integrate data on assets; develop climate imputs; develop information on asset sensitivity to climate; incorporate likelihood & risk (optional); identify & rate vulnerabilities; assess asset criticality (optional). The lower portion of the diagram illustrates the third and final main component of the framework: integraie into decision making. A large rectangle includes a bulleted list of seven potential ways to use study results: 1. incorporate into asset management; 2. integrate into emergency & risk management; 3. contribute to long range transportation plan; 4. assist in project prioritization; 5. identify opportunities for improving data collection, operations or designs; 6. build public support for adaptation investment; 7. educate & engage staff & decision makers. Two arrows point from the final integrate into decision making step back up to the top of the diagram. An arrow on the left side of the page is labled "Develp New Objectives." An arrow on the right side of the page is labled "Monitor and Revisit."

Figure 1: Climate Change and Extreme Weather Vulnerability Assessment Framework

Updated: 03/27/2014
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