Steps to Resilience Overview

The Steps to Resilience framework describes a methodical approach communities can use to identify their valuable assets, determine which climate-related hazards could harm them, and then identify and take effective actions to reduce their risk.

Steps to Resilience
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What is Resilience?

Resilience refers to the ability of a system to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change. More formally, resilience is the capacity of a community, business, or natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from a disruption. Climate resilience refers to situations where the disruptions are related to climate or extreme weather.

Community efforts to build climate resilience are increasingly seen as opportunities to prepare for new climate conditions, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and address issues of social equity.

Graphs showing functional capacity over time for two levels of resilience

These graphs illustrate two levels of resilience. On the left, a community asset or service operates at a steady state (business as usual) until an acute hazard occurs. If the level of service drops below a tipping point, the system attempts to recover, but experiences a permanent loss. On the right, actions taken to improve overall conditions prior to an acute hazard increase the system's functional level. From this higher baseline, the same acute hazard still requires a period of recovery, but no irreversible damage occurs. Building resilience means improving conditions so that the system can accomodate future disruptions.

What is the Steps to Resilience framework?

Circular diagram with "engage" gear at center, with iterative steps to resilience around the perimeter

The Steps to Resilience is a proven framework for reducing climate-related risk. Following the steps, groups compile a list of the things they care about and explore which climate hazards could harm them. They assess what is vulnerable, investigate possible solutions, and set priorities among the& options to address their highest risks. Built on foundational work by climate scientists and professional planners, the Steps to Resilience framework can help neighborhoods, cities, regions, and tribal or state governments quantify their vulnerability and risk and integrate considerations of people, ecosystems, and economics into their plans.

Given the reality of limited resources and competing options, the framework helps groups produce a prioritized list of projects they can begin implementing to build resilience.

Success stories in using the Steps to Resilience Framework

The Steps to Resilience framework has been applied at scales as small as community neighborhoods and as large as entire states. These reports illustrate how the framework was used at various scales: 

Several other cities follow the Steps to Resilience framework to produce and update their Climate Action Plans. For examples, see Case Studies featuring Asheville, North Carolina and Blacksburg, Virginia, or explore the Toolkit's full collection of case studies that describe how businesses, communities, and regional groups across the nation are using the framework to build resilience. 

The Steps Are Iterative

Though the steps are numbered from 1 through 5, communities are never really done building resilience to a changing climate. Groups may need to return to previous steps repeatedly to consider new hazards and changing vulnerabilities, even as they take steps to build resilience and reduce risk.

Who is the Primary Audience for the Steps to Resilience framework?

Community champions—committed leaders who know how to get things done through their local government—can use the steps to guide their process. With their detailed local knowledge, champions can use the steps as an outline to decide on a project's scope, develop lists of the people and groups who need to be involved, and decide what outcomes to drive toward at different points in the process. 

Adaptation practitioners—those who are working to identify and enact actions that help us adapt to new climate conditions—can also use the framework. They will want to focus on the finer points of building resilience through actions that can increase adaptive capacity or reduce exposure and sensitivity.

Community members can also read and consider the framework to develop a sense of how a resilience-building process might work in their own community.

What's your starting point?

Groups begin considering climate resilience for several different reasons:

Are you confronting a weather or climate-related problem?

Road Closed sign in front of flooded roadway

Most communities across the United States have some awareness of the extreme weather or climate-related hazards they could experience. If you're already aware of a hazard that could result in damages or loss in your community, you'll make a list of the people, places, and services that are exposed to that hazard. Later, you'll explore additional hazards that could affect those assets.

Are you trying to protect something you care about?

River flowing through desert landscape

People often form communities around an asset they want to protect. For example, dozens of business owners might join a "Downtown Association" to promote and protect their shops. Outdoor recreation enthusiasts, wildlife conservationists, and sportsmen might join together to form a "Friends of the River" group. Asset-centered groups can further their common goals by exploring the weather and climate-related hazards that could impact the asset they care about.

Are you creating or updating an official planning document?

Adults holding discussions at three round tables

In order to be eligible for federal and state programs, municipalities, counties, and states are required to prepare and submit regular updates to official planning documents such as Hazard Mitigation Plans. Leveraging community engagements required for these updates to add climate considerations to planning documents is an efficient way to move plans forward and integrate climate resilience into future plans.

Last modified
24 August 2021 - 3:28pm