Understand Exposure

Consider the things your community cares about and determine which ones could be harmed by weather and climate-related hazards. Work through the tasks in this step in any order, revisiting them as needed. By the end of this step, you'll have a finite list of the climate hazards that could damage the things your community values.

For more information on the Steps to Resilience framework, see the Overview page.

Steps to Resilience
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What could happen?

Identify the things your community cares about

Identify the people, places, and services—collectively referred to as assets—that your community agrees are important to protect. These assets are the things that power your economy and make your neighborhood, community, or city special and unique.

Identify your assets by asking questions such as: What features, services, and opportunities make this a good place to live and work? What neighborhoods, historic sites, schools, tourist attractions, or retail centers make this place special? Consider physical, social, and economic assets across your location.

Explore potential hazards

Checkboxes in front of 15 climate-related hazards

Events that could result in damage to your assets are potential hazards. Many hazards are related to extreme weather and climate, but events such as earthquakes and hazardous material spills are not. These pages focus solely on weather and climate, yet communities can apply the information here to build resilience to a broader range of hazards.

To zero in on the weather and climate-related hazards that are relevant for your location, check what types of weather events have caused damage in your region in the past. Be sure to consider current weather trends and check on the climate conditions projected for future decades. 

Authoritative data sources linked below can help you understand normal climate in your community, and what is changing or likely to change in the future.

Explore past storms in the Storm Reports Database »

Check past climate conditions in Climate at a Glance »

Check future climate projections in the Climate Explorer »

View your state's climate trends in State Climate Summaries »

Check future shoreline locations in the Sea Level Rise Viewer »

View additional tools for Understanding Exposure »

Which of your assets are exposed to weather and climate?

Assets that are located in places where they could be impacted by weather or climate-related events are exposed to possible harm. Exposure is simply the presence of assets in places where they could be damaged.

Go over the list of assets you identified earlier: which of them are in places or situations where they could be adversely affected by weather or climate?

Identify potential hazards for each of your exposed assets

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.

Make a list of your exposed assets.

Next to each asset, list all the weather and climate-related events or situations that could damage it.



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 every 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 conversations about climate resilience from global to local and from abstract to concrete.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has used this pairing strategy to assess vulnerability of specific transportation assets. View their list of asset-hazard pairs »

Describe potential consequences

For each asset-hazard pair on your list, write descriptions of the range of impacts that could result from different intensities of the hazard.

Explore past events to ground your descriptions in reality, and then imagine what could happen to your assets if they experience a minor, moderate, or major hazard event. Capture vivid descriptions of the stories that could unfold at different intensities of the hazard.

These 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 things such as 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. 

Gather a team

Identify a champion

Rounding up the human and financial resources needed to design and implement effective resilience-building projects almost always takes a committed community leader who has the ability to get things done within the local government. Successful champions gather input from diverse audiences, work through conflicts to develop group consensus, and deliver recommendations to council members or other decision makers.

If you are concerned about local climate challenges, but are not yet experienced in effecting change in your community, you could be more effective by identifying a community champion who you can support.

Build a team

What groups or individuals in your community might be concerned with the issue you've identified? Make a list of all the organizations, groups, and businesses that could be affected by the issue at hand. Identify one or more points of contact for each group, looking especially to engage people who have responsibilities related to your issue.

To ensure community buy-in, it's essential to be inclusive when building a team. Successful projects take extra steps to ensure that participants reflect the full range of demographics in their region. If your issue or its resolution will affect an identifiable group of people, the earlier they are a part of your process, the better. 

Define the scope of your project

Identify and focus on your group’s shared values and interests. Throughout your communications and activities, keep a strong focus on participants' common goals. The more clearly you define a problem the group is willing to work together to solve, the easier it will be to find a solution to match it.

And though you've reached the end of Step 1, please recognize the iterative nature of working toward resilience. This step describes a series of tasks that you can continue to work on, even as you move forward to 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
17 February 2023 - 3:15pm