The U.S. Department of Transportation (Department or DOT) is carrying out a department-wide Climate Action Plan for Resilience. As part of the plan, DOT has developed a climate vulnerability assessment tool for all of its mission critical sites. The tool uses natural hazard risk and climate model data with information on local asset vulnerability. The annual frequency data from FEMA’s National Risk Index gave DOT these localized natural hazard data. The Department is using the Risk Index data to compare the climate vulnerability of its mission critical facilities across the United States.
The Department has more than 600 sites that are completing assessments. DOT’s headquarters facility finished its own assessment in early 2023. The headquarters facility sits in the floodplain of the Anacostia River on the East Coast. The assessment confirmed that headquarters’ assets are at high risk to hurricane winds and precipitation. They are also at risk from coastal and riverine flooding. The facilities managers at headquarters are now using this data to support projects that are designed to boost resilience. This includes elevating assets to reduce the risk of flooding, as well as hardening assets to withstand hurricane winds. All of DOT’s facilities can use their assessment results this way. This will help the Department address the highest climate risks by applying resilience measures to assets across the country.
- The managers of these facilities would perform the assessment; it had to be accessible for a range of skill levels.
- All 50 states and the District had to be able to use the data for the assessment. The data also had to reflect localized climate exposure to be a strong measure of risk. This would create a risk assessment that facilities can use to develop projects that boost resilience. The data can help support project proposals in capital improvement, operations and maintenance plans.
- DOT’s headquarters facility is in a floodplain near the Anacostia River. It is at high risk of flooding during a hurricane or major coastal storm. Storm surge can travel up the river and cause significant flooding. The facility is also at risk for hurricane winds.
- DOT used the natural hazard annualized frequency data from the National Risk Index to develop a climate vulnerability assessment tool. The tool includes Census tract data for 14 of the Risk Index’s 18 hazards. It also includes climate modeling projections for the year 2050. Based on the location entered, the tool shows hazards that are relevant to that area.
- The Department’s tool is spreadsheet-based; all of DOT’s facilities’ staff can access it. To start the assessment, managers enter their facility’s criticality, dependency and asset vulnerability information. Then, the tool combines that information with the data from the Risk Index and climate models. This gives overall and asset-level risk scores that are specific to the facility.
- The DOT headquarters facility assessment showed that hurricane and flood hazard risk are a main concern. This is a combined assessment of (a) its exposure to hurricanes and other natural hazards; (b) how vulnerable its assets are to certain natural hazards and climate change; and (c) criticality of its function.
- As DOT updates its headquarters facility assets, it will use the results of its assessment. These data help strengthen and push forth projects that increase resilience and safety. For instance, DOT headquarters is looking to replace its boilers. Right now, they are at risk of losing power from hurricane and flood hazard events. The current plan is to install new boilers in a way that reduces risk from these events. This is one way to make sure that the facility stays functional during a hurricane. The Department will use the data from the tool to bolster their proposal.
- Going forward, DOT’s facilities should update their assessments every four years. They can update their assessments if they update or move an asset. DOT will also ask for updates if there are new risk and climate data. Regular updates ensure that DOT’s facilities use the best data to make decisions that reduce risk.
- Data help move resiliency forward. DOT’s assessment tool used Risk Index hazard frequency data with climate models and local asset vulnerability information. The results help operational facilities get approval for projects that boost resilience to hazard events. The Risk Index data help build the case for resilience.
- The Risk Index provides data at the Census tract level for the entire United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The data coverage supported the DOT requirement to develop a tool that all its facilities can use. The data led to results that are geographically specific. At the same time, the assessment is standardized for all DOT facilities.
- The FEMA National Risk Index offers data that are consistent and maintained. DOT will use this tool to regularly reassess its facilities’ natural hazard and climate risk. FEMA regularly maintains and updates the National Risk Index data. This ensures that they are accurate. DOT now has a reliable source of hazard data to use for years to come. It supports the long-term vision to use data to boost climate resilience.