Understand Exposure

Assets include the people, infrastructure, and natural systems that your community wants to protect. Hazards are events or conditions that could injure people or damage assets.  

Exposure occurs wherever assets and hazards overlap. Any asset that exists in a place where it could be harmed is exposed to that hazard.

In this step, you’ll list your community assets, consider which climate-related hazards could occur, and build an exposure matrix to identify which of your assets are exposed to potential harm. 

Steps to Resilience
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Identify the things your community cares about

Make a detailed list of the people, infrastructure, and natural systems—collectively referred to as assets—that your community depends on to keep functioning. The tangible and intangible things that power your economy and make your neighborhood, community, or city special and unique are your assets.

Note that you can group multiple assets together for this task. For example, you may want to group all commercial properties in the downtown area together, or consider all city-owned properites as a single asset. If some of your assets are more important than others, or they stand out as more likely to be damaged than others, you may want to list them singly.

The Community Asset Themes Worksheet » can help you come up with a manageable number of categories to characterize your assets.

List the climate-related hazards you could face

Checkboxes in front of 15 climate-related hazards

Any event or condition that could result in damage to your assets is a potential hazard. 

To zero in on weather and climate-related hazards for your location, use the links below to check what types of events have caused damage in your region in the past. You'll also add the hazards that might damage your assets in the present to your list, and finish by entering hazards that could occur under climate conditions projected for your location in the future

What hazards have occurred in your region in the past?

Draw on local knowledge, newspaper archives, online databases, and other documents to identify extreme weather events that occurred within your region in the past. Capture a couple sentences about each event and the impacts it had.

Explore past storms in the Storm Reports Database »

What hazards might occur over the next decade or so?

Check if climate trends suggest that hazards such as heat waves, drought, or flooding are increasing in your region. List any additional hazards your community may face in the next decade.

View climate trends in State Climate Summaries »

What hazards might you face over the next several decades?

As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change over this century, what other hazards might occur in your region? List the hazards that could occur under new conditions projected for the future.

Check current and future exposure in the Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation portal »

Could rising sea levels impact your region?

As global sea level rises, will it inundate land or infrastructure in your region? If so, describe the frequency and depth of coastal flooding projected for the future.

Check future shoreline locations in the Sea Level Rise Viewer »

Vocabulary Review

Assets are the people, infrastructure, and ecosystems that your community wants to protect.

Hazards are events or conditions that could injure people or damage assets.

Exposure occurs wherever assets and hazards overlap. Any asset that exists in a place where it could be harmed by a hazard is exposed to that hazard.


Which of your assets are exposed to weather and climate?

One at a time, consider each of your assets. For each asset, list the weather and climate-related events or situations that could damage it.

Two column table listing exposed assets with potential hazards

Example table of exposed assets and the weather and climate-related hazards that could harm them.

List your Asset-Hazard pairs

Example list of assets paired with single hazards

Example list of Asset-Hazard pairs, reformatted from the previous table.

Use the entries from your table above to make a new list, pairing each asset with each unique hazard that could affect it.

This important step results in a defined list of climate-related concerns that you can confront. Groups who have used this strategy note that it helps them move from vague concerns about what could happen as a result of climate change to a finite list of specific potential problems.

The U.S. Department of Transportation uses this pairing strategy to assess the vulnerability of transportation assets to various hazards. View their list of case studies on the exposure of asset-hazard pairs »

Imagine and describe potential consequences

For each asset-hazard pair on your list, consider what could happen to the assets if various intensities of the hazard occur. 

Use your descriptions of past events to ground your descriptions in reality, and then consider what could happen to your assets today if a minor, moderate, or major hazard event occurs. Capture clear descriptions of the potential consequences for each asset at increasing intensities of the hazard.

These reality-based descriptions can serve as warnings about what could happen to your community's valued assets. The opportunity to help avoid these impacts may motivate individuals and groups to join your efforts.

Recognize the role of stressors

Conditions that make hazards more frequent or severe are called stressors.

  • Climate stressors include changes in the frequency or severity of extreme weather events. These changes occur due to natural climate variability (i.e. episodes of El Niño and La Niña) as well as through human-caused climate change.
  • Non-climate stressors include changes in land cover (for instance, when natural vegetation is cleared and replaced with roads and buildings), construction projects that disrupt natural water drainage or common traffic patterns, and population growth.

If one of your potential hazards is becoming more severe or occurring more frequently, or changes in your local environment could make the impact of a hazard worse, your risk—the probability of a negative consequence—is likely increasing. You'll assess vulnerability and risk in Step 2. 

Decision point

If any of your important assets are exposed to climate-related hazards, continue to Step 2 »

You may find it useful to download and complete this prepared spreadsheet to record input as you move through the steps. 

Access the Glossary for definitions and examples of words related to resilience.

References for Steps to Resilience

Overview of the Steps to Resilience 

Last modified
21 February 2024 - 2:09pm