Drought Hazard Use Case

Iowa’s economy revolves around water. As a producer of soybeans, corn and livestock, farming is a source of many residents’ livelihoods. Iowa’s manufacturing industries and freshwater recreation activities are crucial to the state’s economy. When a three-year drought hit the state, along with the pandemic and a major flood, it was clear the state needed to make major investments toward drought resilience. Staff from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEMD) and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) came together to form a drought coordinating team. Through this multi-agency partnership, the team leveraged national, regional and state resources to create the Iowa Drought Plan. The plan uses FEMA’s National Risk Index (the Iowa Drought Plan uses v1.18.1 of the National Risk Index) to assess overall risk as well as the risk posed to the state’s agricultural assets. The Risk Index drought analysis focuses on agricultural losses, making it a strong tool for a farming state like Iowa. Being able to identify risk helped support a mitigation strategy that addresses those risks. The state will continue to act on the final plan as it works towards drought resilience.


  • Iowa’s drought plan was from 1985, with no copies available. State leaders knew they needed a new drought plan that addressed risk with the right data and mitigation actions.
  • Since July 2020, Iowa has faced nearly three straight years of drought conditions. Iowa’s main industries are agriculture and manufacturing, both of which rely on a steady supply of water. Without it, the state’s economy would become very vulnerable.
  • On top of the drought, the state faced the August 2020 Midwest derecho, a major wind and rain event. Drought conditions can worsen flooding because dry soils do not absorb water as well as healthy soils. The derecho compounded the effects of the drought. All of this took place while the state dealt with the ongoing pandemic. Changing climate conditions and extremes make quality planning more important than ever.
  • Some regions in the state have poor water quality or limited water supplies. These resources are strained in normal conditions, so a persistent drought would have major impacts. The drought coordinating team performed an exercise using historic events to see what impacts a four-year drought event could have. The results showed that a persistent drought could be disastrous for the state’s people, economy and environment.


  • The Iowa DNR worked with the Iowa HSEMD and IDALS to create the Iowa Drought Plan. The multi-agency plan is a wide-ranging review of the state’s drought risk.
  • The drought coordinating team used the National Risk Index to find the most at-risk counties in Iowa. The overall drought risk index rating gave an overview of economic losses, community resilience and social vulnerability for each county and Census tract. By considering social vulnerability, the team took a deeper approach for defining the state’s most at-risk counties. The Risk Index’s Expected Annual Loss (EAL) for agriculture showed the potential economic impacts of drought events to the state’s economy.
  • In addition to data, the drought coordinating team gathered stakeholder input. They met often with people from the agricultural sector and used their expertise to inform the plan. Once developed, the team gave stakeholders the draft plan to get even more detailed input. Through this process, they got a lot of key feedback, which the final plan reflects. The result is a drought plan that key agricultural stakeholders across the state can buy into and use.
  • Three state agencies created and adopted the Iowa Drought Plan. Some of the drought coordinating team members were also working on updating Iowa’s state hazard mitigation plan. The Iowa Hazard Mitigation Plan will include drought mitigation actions from the drought plan. This will create consistency and boost funding opportunities for projects. Additionally, the drought plan has been worked into the agencies’ daily operations. It has action items that tie into drought monitoring, so that agencies know what to do under wet and dry conditions. This way, they can better prepare for and respond to drought events.
  • The coordinating team has promoted the Risk Index to different stakeholder groups. Groups range from federal and state partners to Iowa corn and soybean farmers. They plan to continue promoting the tool as they carry out the actions in the drought plan. They want to see communities use the tool to assess agricultural drought risk with EAL data in their local hazard mitigation plans. The Risk Index’s visual display has made it a great outreach tool without being overly technical. It is especially useful for smaller, rural communities since it is public and easy to access.
Expected Annual Loss data by Census tract in Iowa that show generally less risk in urban areas, southeastern and eastern Iowa.
Figure 1. Expected Annual Loss data by Census tract in Iowa that show generally less risk in urban areas, southeastern and eastern Iowa.

Key Takeaways

  • The FEMA National Risk Index shows the value of hazard data. The Risk Index quantified how the drought risk posed to Iowa agriculture could impact its economy. The EAL estimates, measured in dollars, can help show why investing in agricultural drought mitigation is necessary. Having these data will help the state work to boost the resilience of its farmers and state economy.
  • Assessing holistic risk requires multiple sources of information. In addition to the Risk Index data, the coordinating team invested time and resources to collect local stakeholder feedback. These efforts led to a needed update to the drought plan that the state and stakeholders can support. Leveraging diverse sources of information also results in a more complete picture of risk. This time and effort put into the planning process will improve the success of future drought mitigation projects.
  • The FEMA National Risk Index supports collaboration. The Risk Index is a public tool that is easy to share and use. Iowa DNR and HSEMD staff were familiar with the tool before joining the drought coordinating team. This made it easy for the multi-agency team to use the tool and include it in the plan’s risk assessment.

To learn more about how to use the National Risk Index, visit FEMA.gov/NRI or email FEMA-NRI@fema.dhs.gov.

Share how you used the National Risk Index by emailing FEMA-NRI@fema.dhs.gov.

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