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Climate Impact Preparedness, Adaptation, and Resilience

This page provides examples of how local governments in Washington State are preparing for the impacts of climate change, including vulnerability and risk assessments, adaptation and resilience strategies, and related ordinances and resolutions.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Climate Change.

Please contact us at climateresources@mrsc.org with questions or comments about the resources on this page.



Overview

The changing global climate will continue to have profound local impacts on the environment. Communities in Washington State are already seeing these impacts in the form of warming waters, sea level rise, increased wildfire risks, ocean acidification, reduced snowpack and freshwater resources, and record-breaking weather events — all of which are causing significant damage to property and lives. To the extent the public expects their local governments to protect public safety, prevent unnecessary property damage, and ensure the public welfare, local governments should be taking steps to identify the potential risks and implement possible solutions that reduce the negative impacts of the changing climate on people and property.

In the climate context, mitigation usually refers to actions that communities take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and limit long-term damage from continued climate change. However, mitigation can also be used in its broader sense to mean minimizing the damage from the climate impacts that are already occurring and will continue to occur despite efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

Ideally, responding to climate impacts that are already occurring should be labeled as adaptation, while preparing for those that will likely occur in the future is referred to as building resilience. Note, however, that the terms are often used interchangeably or simultaneously.

For those just beginning the process to plan for and respond to climate impacts, it is important to note that a lot of work has already been done throughout the state and there is quite a bit of technical and professional support available. Further, many jurisdictions already plan for natural hazards and emergencies to comply with state law and respond to community priorities but haven’t yet incorporated information on how climate changes will exacerbate the existing hazards. This page highlights example assessments, plans, and other resources to assist local governments to continue the good work and prepare for the impacts of climate change.


Vulnerability/Risk Assessments

The first step in taking action to protect property and lives is to identify vulnerabilities and the acceptable level of risk to those vulnerable assets. Often these assessments are part of a larger hazard mitigation plan (HMP) developed by local agencies to be eligible for federal mitigation grant assistance. These plans and assessments offer local governments the opportunity to look beyond traditional hazard risks or to consider how climate change may be exacerbating the existing risk. Below is a selection of assessments and HMPs that take different approaches to the process.

  • Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency: Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (2016) — Provides a thorough discussion of risk assessment methodology. Detailed sections include those that address drought, floods, landslides, severe weather, and wildfires. It identifies critical facilities, high risk areas, and loss estimates. It includes a planning area risk ranking for potential damage to people, property, and the economy. The mitigation section includes recommended actions to manipulate the hazard, reduce exposure and vulnerability, and increase capability — all broken out at public (individual), private (business), and government level actions.
  • Everett Hazard Inventory and Vulnerability Analysis (2018) — Recognizes the increased risk and frequency of known hazards, such as landslides and flooding, but also identifies secondary hazards from climate change, such as heat waves and greater ranges of invasive species and diseases. It includes neighborhood-level risk assessments.
  • Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Climate Adaptation Plan (2013) — Identifies key resources or areas of concern, including salmon, wildfire, cedar harvest, shorelines, and facilities. Each area of concern is assigned a vulnerability level and priority level. Next, the importance of the resource is identified, such as to economy, culture, or diet, and what impacts can be expected from continued climate change. The plan also includes potential “next step” adaptation actions. Comparing this approach to other approaches reveals cultural and community differences in which resources are prioritized for protection. 
  • King County Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan (2020) — Includes risk assessments for flood, severe weather, sea level rise, and wildfire. Each section includes a description of vulnerability characteristics and assignment of priority vulnerabilities and priority impact areas. It includes specific and detailed hazard mitigation strategies that center county’s Determinants of Equity and purposely crosswalks with county’s Strategic Climate Action Plan in the areas of flooding and wildfire. Each strategy includes two-year, five-year, and long-term objectives. Strategies include data acquisition from integrated planning to community engagement, as well as specific actions like managed retreat and facility hardening.
  • Seattle City Light Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan — Uses a matrix approach to identify potential impacts to utility resources or functions and then assigns a vulnerability level, which includes a rating for exposure, sensitivity, and capacity to adapt. It also assigns a risk level to the potential magnitude of impacts to financial cost, safety, reliability, and environmental responsibility. The plan also includes potential adaptation actions.
  • Spokane County Hazard Mitigation Plan (2020) — Includes a good explanation of the risk assessment methodology. Hazards covered include drought, flood and dam failure, landslides, severe weather, and wildfires. The HMP analyzes the impact of the hazard on humans, property, critical facilities, the economy, and the environment. Each section has a consequence analysis that assigns a level of impact to different resources. The HMP ranks the hazards and assigns a priority risk index for the different governmental agencies within the county and concludes with specific identified mitigation initiatives, which include county-wide and county-specific initiatives, ranging from public education to structural projects and property protection, to natural resource protection. A particularly useful section is the capability assessment, which reviews federal and state legal authority that supports the HMP planning and implementation.

Adaptation and Resilience Strategies

Once vulnerability and risk assessments are completed, the hard work of identifying implementation strategies to respond to those risks begins. Below are examples of governmental efforts to adapt to the increased risks and build resilience to minimize damage.

Plans and Studies

  • Bremerton Shoreline Master Program (2021) — One of the goals presented in this document is to recognize and monitor the potential effects of climate change and encourage shoreline development and redevelopment to deal with sea level rise in the following order: avoid, retreat, protect, and accommodate. This includes creating a climate change strategic plan on the impacts of sea level rise on the shoreline and other affected property, studying changes to the character of the public and private shorelines, and considering sea level rise impacts during the planning of new development and other public and private shoreline projects. This document also contains chapters dedicated to shoreline use regulations and shoreline modifications.
  • Jefferson County Shoreline Master Plan (Periodic Review, 2021) — Includes added stronger considerations of climate change and adaptation measures that align with policies in the county's Comprehensive Plan, such as encouraging all development to address the potential adverse effects of global climate change and sea level rise, prioritizing retreat measures for new development or new infrastructure investments and allowing for feasible planned relocations or realignments of existing development and infrastructure, accommodating shoreline uses and activities that are saltwater and flood tolerant, and considering potential effects of climate change when making siting decisions for capital facilities.
  • North Olympic Development Council: Comprehensive List of Adaptation Strategies (2015) — An appendix to its Climate Change Preparedness Plan (2015), NODC has compiled a list of adaptation strategies for ecosystems, water supplies, and critical infrastructure. Each strategy identifies whether it is related to awareness, policy, or planning, a scoring of its relevance, leading/responsible groups, the timeframe for implementation, and other opportunities or concerns. NODC has also been monitoring the progress of these strategies through its Climate Adaptation Dashboard. This resource includes a wide range of adaptation strategies and identifies adoption and implementation methods. Other resources created by NODC can be found on its Climate Change Report website.
  • Olympia Sea Level Rise — Sea Level Rise Response Plan (joint planning document with the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance) begins with a sea-level-rise-specific vulnerability and risk assessment. Sea level rise had previously been determined to be the most pressing climate impact threat to the city’s downtown area, which is largely built on fill and has an existing history of damaging flood events. The planning process included a thorough inventory and mapping of assets and operations and a vulnerability assessment of those assets. Importantly, the document describes the selected considerations for planning for adaptation: physical and operational strategies, governance and informational strategies, cost of adaptation, and implementation. For physical and operational strategies, a menu of selected strategies is described, including temporary flood protection, living with water, and permanent flood protection. Menu selections are then assigned to defined public assets within the downtown area. Wholesale retreat from the downtown area was rejected due to extensive investments both below and above ground, however, selective retreat in certain areas is considered advisable. The plan also includes a description of the extensive community outreach and stakeholder involvement in development of the plan and selection of proposed strategies.
  • Port Angeles Climate Adaptation Recommendations (2019) — Included on pages 11-14 of its Resiliency Plan is a list of adaptation strategies (but geared toward a smaller area) similar to that found in the NODC document. This plan/report also includes a copy of its climate change adaptation certification tool (Appendix D), which was created by the nonprofit EcoAdapt
  • Puyallup Tribe Climate Change Impact Assessment and Adaptation Options (2016) — After a thorough assessment and projection of impacts, this plan reviews proposed strategies in the sectors of fisheries; hatcheries, and shellfish; public safety; air quality/health; transportation and infrastructure; natural resources (habitat and wildlife restoration and conservation); and water quality. 
  • San Juan County: Working Towards Climate Resilience (2017) — Discusses current and recommended climate resilience actions in the San Juan Islands specific to water resources, terrestrial ecosystems, agriculture, and energy. Particularly helpful, the impacts are identified for each category, followed by existing programs, projects, and plans. Finally, locally focused adaptation measures/recommendations are proposed that would close the gap between where the existing actions are and where they should be in order to prevent the potential impacts previously discussed.
  • Seattle: Preparing for Climate Change (2017) — After reviewing an equity-centered planning methodology, this plan lays out sector-specific strategies to be taken over the next five years. Action items are identified for transportation, land use and the built environment, city buildings, parks, drainage and water supply systems, electricity systems, and community preparedness.
  • Tacoma Climate Change Resiliency Study (2016) — This study is a good example of a beginning-to-end detailed/technical vulnerability analysis that delves into existing programs and recommended adaptation strategies. Recommendations are broken down into near-term needs and windows of opportunities, low hanging fruit, and longer-term projects, and includes considerations for further studies. The study is broken down into the categories of the built environment, natural systems, and social systems and includes notably useful data mapping. This is a good resource to highlight since it (1) studies/identifies vulnerabilities in a technical but replicable way, (2) provides key findings and results, (3) explains which existing programs contribute to resiliency, (4) provides detailed adaptation strategies/recommendations, and (5) identifies areas for further study. This structure seems to be both effective and comprehensive.

Preparing for Extreme Weather Events

  • Anacortes Water Treatment Plant Rebuild — This is an example of rebuilding a water treatment plant in order to manage current and future flood risks involved with extreme weather events. Planners relied on the EPA Coastal Inundation Toolkit to better understand facility vulnerability. Relocating out of the floodplain was deemed cost prohibitive so other strategies need to be employed, such as raising critical electrical equipment above potential flood levels and waterproofing lower parts of the structure.
  • Everett Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (2014) — Annex B is dedicated to extreme weather events and has a clear outline for response measures. This includes operational procedures before and during the extreme weather event, specific information pertaining to severe weather warnings, weather-related activations of the emergency operations center (EOC) or Skywarn volunteers, and storm damage reporting procedures. Response efforts for severe weather include dewatering properties, tree and debris removal, snow removal, clearing storm drains, and road closures.
  • Jefferson County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (2018) — Annex B addresses hazard-specific procedures for landslides, flooding, severe weather, and wildfires. Procedures for landslides and flooding include a general overview of hazard identification and vulnerability assessment, and the implementation of a response, which involves a threat analysis, data collection, and/or recommended actions, including the involvement of appropriate parties (i.e., fire district, sheriff's office, EOC). The section for severe weather includes an overview of the impacts and effects from strong winds, a general overview of hazard identification and vulnerability assessment, and the implementation of a response, which includes the criteria for severe weather from the National Weather Service, a threat analysis, recommended response activities, and recommended post-incident recovery.
  • King County Heat Mapping Project (2021) — This is a good example of heat mapping to display regional extreme weather and includes reduction recommendations. The mapping project revealed areas of higher impact from increased temperatures and the results “will inform work across departments and initiatives to mitigate the impact of hotter summer temperatures, which is exacerbating inequities.”  Some of these efforts include informing bus stop design and amenities, focusing existing efforts to increase the tree canopy in highly impacted blocks, and “updating land-use and urban planning policies to prioritize greenspace and other cooling strategies.”
  • Quinault Indian Nation: Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan (2020) — Part of a larger report, this plan to relocate a portion of the Lower Village of Taholah to a higher elevation was developed with significant community input. The sustainable planning strategies are transferable to other local jurisdictions considering similar questions of planning for coastal retreat and relocation, even on a smaller scale.
  • San Juan County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (2019) — Includes incident annexes for severe storms, wildland-urban interface fires, floods, and drought. For each of these incidents, there is a highly useful and comprehensive checklist of items to complete in the pre-incident phase, response phase, and recovery/demobilization phase. The checklist of items used in the pre-incident phase is an effective approach to preparedness and potential resiliency in the future. For example, a checklist item under drought is “Work with the local planning commission to ensure new construction does not increase hazards or vulnerability threat,” which can be a justification to ensure that new construction/infrastructure is prepared for the increased strain it may endure in the future because of climate change.

Addressing Wildfire Risk in the Wildland Urban Interface

While fire is a natural part of forest and grassland health, a warming climate is leading to drier conditions, which in turn increases the risk of uncontrolled wildfire – both in forests and grasslands. The greatest risk to human life and property occurs where these wildlands meet human development, i.e., the wildland urban interface (WUI). In the sample wildfire protection plans (WPP) below, these communities have looked at steps that can be taken to minimize wildfire damage.

  • Grant County Wildfire Protection Plan (2016) — Includes a detailed risk and preparedness assessment, and mitigation recommendations that are broken down in a similar manner as the Lincoln County plan. Comparing this plan to other WPPs on this page reflects the unique physical attributes of the region.
  • Lincoln County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update (2016) —  Includes a detailed risk and preparedness assessment with consideration of the different landscape types within the county. Beginning on page 117 is an extensive list of action items grouped into safety and policy, fire prevention, education and mitigation, infrastructure enhancements, and resource and capability enhancements. It also includes a proposed list of five-year projects and the status of projects included in previous versions.
  • Methow Valley Climate Action Plan (2021) — Goal 3: Health & Safety addresses risks from wildfire and identifies steps to becoming a “smoke-ready” community, including adopting Firewise building and landscape standards, creating safe public indoor spaces (such as cooling and clean air centers), and establishing a resilient supply chain for food, medicine, energy, and other essentials. It also recognizes the need to build social resiliency by supporting mental health during and after smoke and fire events.
  • Mill Creek and Walla Walla County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (2017) — This WPP takes a slightly different approach to mitigation by breaking out specific actions within delineated WUI-zones, in addition to countywide actions.

Washington Local Government Resolutions and Ordinances

Below are sample resolutions that reflect the agency’s goals, policies, and planning and financial priorities, and address the community’s unique environmental and social challenges.

  • Bainbridge Island Resolution No. 2020-05 (2020) — Declares the existence of a climate emergency and sets the broad goal of adapting to climate change, such as through a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Certification, or similar process, to ensure consistency with the city’s adopted climate goals and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce vulnerability to climate change.
  • Issaquah Resolution No. 2020-04 (2020) - Declares support for the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration joint letter of commitment. In the collaboration letter, which is attached to the resolution, section X pushes for climate preparedness and aims to increase community resilience, and section V pushes the need for a more resilient energy system.
  • San Juan County Resolution No. 20-2020 (2020) — A resolution to respond and adapt to climate change. Specifically, the county states goals to improve long-term resiliency of public infrastructure investments, and to promote service, supplies, and green-based jobs that support a climate resilient Island lifestyle.
  • Sequim Resolution No. R2016-16 (2016) — Ensures that infrastructure resiliency for transportation, solid waste, water, buildings, parks, clean air, and food availability is included and integrated into the city’s comprehensive plan, master plans, capital improvement program, land use and development plans, emergency management plan, and hazard mitigation plan. The resolution also pushes for measurable objectives for mitigation and ensures that the city budgets will support these objectives. 
  • White Salmon Resolution 2021-03-517 (2021) — Declares a global climate crisis and commits to initiating efforts to formulate adaptation and resiliency strategies in preparation for intensifying climate impacts such as wildfires, drought, reduced water availability, and stormwater runoff.

Resilience and Adaptation Resources from Other States

  • Asheville (NC): Planning for Climate Resilience (2018) — A clearly planned and executed resilience plan that includes a step-by-step approach to resilience planning. Step 1: Explore and identify climate threats and community assets. Step 2: Identify potential impacts, vulnerability, and conduct risk assessments. Step 3: Identify options to build resilience. Step 4: Prioritize actions. Step 5: Break down the vulnerabilities, risks, and options for each geographic area. This plan effectively lays out each step of the resiliency planning process and integrates vulnerability and risk assessments into the action items created.
  • Georgetown Climate Center: Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas (2020) — Reviews approaches to managed retreat from 17 case studies across the country.
  • Oregon Climate Change Research Institute: Tribal Climate Adaptation Guidebook (2018) — Developed in partnership with Adaptation International, this guidebook is specific to tribal communities and provides a five-step climate adaptation process similar to the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit but with a much stronger emphasis on recognizing “the unique conditions of tribal governments and cultures.” It relies on a holistic approach of “community-driven climate resilience planning,” which is useful for all levels of government and cultures.

Additional Resilience and Adaptation Guides, Tools, and Libraries

  • American Planning Association
    • Planning for Infrastructure Resilience — Provides a deep dive and step-by-step approach to each aspect of planning for infrastructure resilience, including include vulnerability assessments, planning tools, standards, guidelines and regulations for resilient infrastructure development, and infrastructure finance.
    • Hazard Mitigation Policy Guide — Focuses on potential policy outcomes as divided into interagency, regional, and local planning capacity and cooperation; interrelationships between plans, development codes, and ordinances; resiliency standards; incentives; stakeholder involvement and engagement; and specific hazard types. An example of a policy outcome for resiliency standards is to “encourage the use of redundant, smaller-scale infrastructure over larger-scale infrastructure to promote the resilience of physical networks (such as utility systems, roadways, and waterways).”
  • C40 Cities: Integrating Climate Adaptation, A Toolkit for Urban Planners and Adaptation Practitioners — Offers unique and practical climate adaptation planning policies. Chapter 2 identifies these policy approaches while Chapter 3 lays out “next steps” to ensure that potential policies/actions can be executed. Nine international case studies covering a wide array of climate resiliency topics are included to illustrate toolkit approaches.
  • Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) — A database/resource library catered specifically to climate adaptation case studies, documents/publications, and other resources and tools. The interface allows users to sort by geographic region, adaptation phase, specific topic/impact being addressed, and planning sector.
  • Climate Impacts Group at University of Washington 
    • Climate Trends Tool — Allows users to visualize monthly, seasonal, or annual trends in maximum, average or minimum temperature, total precipitation and first of the month snow water equivalent for stations across the Pacific Northwest.
    • Sea Level Rise Visualization Tools — Presents two ways of viewing sea level rise. Visualization 1 allows the user to select a location and view various likelihoods for how much sea level rise could occur at different points in time. Visualization 2 allows the user to select a location and a certain amount of sea level rise and explore the likelihood that the selected amount of sea level rise will occur at a given point in time (e.g., you know the amount of sea level change you are planning for, and you want to know the likelihood that this amount will be exceeded at a given point in time).
  • Georgetown Climate Center
    • Managed Retreat Toolkit — Managed retreat, or the voluntary movement and transition of people and ecosystems away from vulnerable coastal areas, is a complex issue related to climate change. This toolkit provides a comprehensive approach to managing these complexities and includes a section on the legal framework, planning tools, infrastructure, acquisition tools, regulatory tools, market-based tools, and cross-cutting policy considerations.
    • Adaptation Clearinghouse — Offers adaptation-related resources that can be filtered by jurisdictional focus, regions affected, sector, and states impacted. In addition to general resources, the clearinghouse is a great place to find relevant funding sources.
  • National Integrated Heat Health Information System: Heat.gov — Serves as the premier source of heat and health information for the nation.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Sea Grant: Washington Coastal Hazards Risk Reduction Project Mapper — Displays a collection of coastal hazard resilience project case studies and is designed to assist communities and local governments as they identify practical approaches to coastal hazards.
  • Urban Land Institute: Developing Urban Resilience — A compilation/database of case studies relating to resilience. The “filter results” function makes it easy to find specific resilience topics that are being addressed through a variety of approaches (by hazard type, project type, policy/program type, design strategies, and value creation). This resource is very useful for local governments that are looking to address resiliency in a certain way or from a particular angle but want to see how other places have approached it.
  • U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit — Contains a five-step resilience planning process and provides guidance, supplemental case studies, tools, and reports, for each of the steps. There are also helpful videos for each step to guide individuals through the process. 
  • Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network — This network of coastal hazards and climate change practitioners from both the private and public sectors provides a list of guides and resources specific to the Washington coast. This includes a list of resources specifically focused on resiliency and adaptation.

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Last Modified: October 21, 2022