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Programmatic Execution of NCCOS Community Vulnerability Assessments

Region(s) of Study: U.S. States and Territories
This project began in June 2022 and is ongoing.

Coastal populations experience flooding, storms, and erosion, and climate change is exacerbating these and other natural hazards. Impacts from these events are felt differently across the nation due to both natural systems as well as social systems, and some communities feel these impacts disproportionately. Through our Vulnerability Assessment Program, we identify and work with local partners and their stakeholders to assess community climate vulnerability.

Why We Care
As climate change continues, socially disadvantaged communities may be less able to prepare for, or recover from natural hazard events. Historic structural inequalities have led to development patterns that place our nation’s most disadvantaged populations in harm’s way. While there are national tools that screen for vulnerable populations, they often do not provide place-based information at a scale or resolution meaningful for local action. Many of the most vulnerable populations are also marine resource–dependent coastal and island communities, yet U.S. territories and Alaska are often excluded from these tools. Our program seeks to offer additional support to these communities.

An example of the water rescues that were ongoing in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017.

An example of the water rescues that were ongoing in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017. Credit: David J. Phillip (Associated Press) via NOAA's National Hurricane Center.

What We Are Doing
Through our Vulnerability Assessment Program, each year we identify one community or region and work with local partners and their stakeholders to assess community climate vulnerability (e.g., social vulnerability, flood hazard). Working with partners directly ensures that results are locally tailored and relevant for effective, equitable planning. This work provides information to better protect, advance, and manage climate change impacts within local communities.

How We Choose Locations
The program starts one assessment each year. It prioritizes communities and regions that anticipate high hazard probability and high social vulnerability. Additional priority is given to communities that are often omitted from national screening tools (such as U.S. territories and Alaska) and communities adjacent to coastal restoration projects. In addition, all selected research sites must have:

    • Engaged project partners
    • Active project stakeholders
    • Research needs that align with program capabilities
    • Research needs that inform climate adaptation action
    • Capacity to receive and act on research
    • Disadvantaged or underserved populations
    • High vulnerability within the EJScreen Tool and CDC's SVI Tool (or omission from these

Our Approach to Research

All assessments include the following steps:

    1. Partner engagement
    2. Indicator development
    3. Vulnerability and hazard assessment
    4. Risk assessment
    5. Place-based analysis
    6. Product development and release

All assessments work with a project advisory committee and stakeholder workshops to identify and produce:

    • Social vulnerability, structural vulnerability, and/or structural exposure
    • Flood hazard(s) of local importance (e.g., coastal flooding, stormwater flooding)
    • Relative risk through intersection of vulnerability/exposure and hazard profiles
    • At-risk communities or community assets in relation to chosen flood hazard(s)
    • An assessment report, mapbook, and spatial data (geodatabase)
    • One communications item (e.g., infographic, key findings sheet, storymap)
    • Plain language webpage, summarizing the project

In addition to providing the above information, local needs and research questions often require additional analysis. Within team capacity and data availability, each assessment will also include up to two place-based analysis types that align with local context and need. For more information on our research approach, including partner roles and expectations, please see our Partner Engagement two pager linked under the Products, Datasets & Reports section below. Our Community Engagement one pager and Program Glossary are also found in this section.

Coastal erosion at a California beach.

Coastal erosion at a California beach. Credit: Seann Regan, NCCOS.



Additional Resources

Click to expand resource list(s).

Products, Datasets & Reports

Program Outreach Materials

Research Projects

Programmatic Research:

    • Coming soon!

Foundational Research:

Peer-Reviewed Publications

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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