Understand Exposure

To understand your climate exposure, you'll make a list of the things your community cares about. Then, you'll determine which items on the list could be harmed by weather and climate-related hazards. By the end of this step, you'll have a finite list of potential climate issues your community might want to address.

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

Steps to Resilience
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Identify the things your community cares about

Make a list of 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.

Note that you can group sets of individual assets together for this task. For example, you may want to consider all commercial properties in the downtown area as one group, or lump all city-owned buildings together. If some specific assets are more important than others, or they stand out as likely to be damaged, it’s perfectly fine to list them singly.

List the climate-related hazards you could face

Checkboxes in front of 15 climate-related hazards

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

To zero in on relevant weather and climate-related hazards for your location, use the links below to access authoriative information. Check what types of events have caused damage in your region in the past, list all the hazards that might damage your assets in the present, and finish by considering 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, online databases, newspaper archives, and other documents to identify extreme weather events that occurred in your community or within your region in the past. Capture a couple sentences about each event and the impacts it had on the community.

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 new hazards your community may face.

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 »

Review these three important words

Assets include the people, places, and things—both tangible and intangible—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?

Go over your list of assets: note which ones 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.

For each your exposed assets, 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 the vulnerability of specific transportation assets to various hazards. View their list 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 occurreed.

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 clear descriptions of what could happen 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 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
4 December 2023 - 4:26pm