South Central U.S. Hazard and Climate Change Planning Assessment

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 2:00 PM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Rachel Riley, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and R. Edwards, L. M. Carter, M. Shafer, and M. Boone

Planning and preparing for weather and climate hazards is an essential activity for many communities across the United States. The states in the south central U.S. are home to some of the most hazardous weather and climate conditions, and rank among the highest in federal disaster declarations. The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP), a NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments team, conducted an assessment to better understand the needs of hazard planners across its region, which includes Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi. An online survey was administered in early 2013 to decision makers across the SCIPP region who were thought to be involved in hazard planning (n = 342). This was the 2nd time the survey was administered; the first was in 2009. The assessment focuses on 1) hazard planning, 2) planning for climate change, and 3) information use and needs across the region. This paper explores the major findings from the assessment and its implications for researchers and practitioners who work to provide relevant climate information to decision makers.

The first section of the assessment focused on hazard planning. Seventy-nine percent of respondents (n = 269) were formally involved in hazard planning in their agency or organization. Of those, 45% were emergency managers or planners, and the rest comprised a variety of positions such as extension agents, administrators, environmental specialists, elected officials, and engineers. Over two-thirds of respondents (71%) said three or fewer staff in their department share hazard planning responsibilities for their area. Most commonly, however, only one person in a department is responsible for hazard planning.

To guide SCIPP in providing the most relevant and useful climate information to hazard planners, we asked the respondents how important they think it is to plan for 14 weather and climate hazards on a scale from 1 “not important at all” to 5 “critically important”. The hazards were then ranked by their mean importance rating. Floods (from rain or rivers; M = 4.17) ranked the highest, followed closely by tornadoes (M = 4.13). Tornadoes slightly edged out floods in 2009 and the largest ranking change occurred with drought. In 2009 it ranked 8th (M = 3.41); it ranked 3rd (M = 3.68) in this round. A multi-hazard plan is the most common type of plan used for hazard planning. Furthermore, the data reveal the local, state, federal and non-governmental organizations with which hazard planners most commonly interact. Knowing this provides guidance for researchers and practitioners for whom to engage with when they are working on promoting hazard planning.

The second section of the assessment focused on incorporating climate change into hazard planning. About one-third of respondents (30%) had considered incorporating climate change into their hazard plans. Over half said the barriers to doing so included “limited or no funds to support climate change planning” (68%), “higher work priorities” (61%), “lack of community or political interest” (56%), and “limited or no staff available to support climate change planning” (56%).

Finally, the respondents answered several questions pertaining to information use and needs. The top critical need for including climate change in hazard plans was “more climate information that is applicable to my particular area” (59%), although the spread between the first and last ranked need was less than 18%. The respondents were also asked about the temporal and spatial scales of interest to their planning initiatives. Sixty-two percent said their maximum planning timescale is five years or less. Spatially, the most common scale of interest was for “regional within a state” (34%) and “county scale” (22%).

The implications for researchers and practitioners engaged in the climate arena are many. First, individuals working in a variety of positions, not just emergency managers and planners, are involved in hazard planning. Therefore, it is important to engage this variety of individuals. Second, it is likely most effective to engage with hazard planners in a multi-hazard context as opposed to focusing on a single hazard. Third, the finding that limited funding and staff and higher work priorities are some of the top barriers to incorporating climate change into planning initiatives provides motivation for researchers and practitioners to engage the hazard planning community and help alleviate those barriers. Finally, climate projection information will be most useful to hazard planners if it is provided on the spatial and temporal scale(s) that are of interest to them.