394 Health and Hazards in Oregon: Insights from Providing Local Climate Services in Practice

Monday, 11 January 2016
Josh Foster, Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Corvallis, OR

The Climate Impacts Research Consortium (CIRC) at Oregon State University has a mandate to assess regional climate change and variability, support local decision makers in different sectors with climate information, and understand how climate services can be better provided in local contexts. CIRC is housed at the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and is a NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program team serving the Pacific Northwest including Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and western Montana. From 2012-14, Benton County, Oregon, engaged CIRC as part of a novel climate adaptation and public health risk assessment process that has been touted as a possible model for other similar local planning efforts nationwide. Benton County Health Services was one of five counties in Oregon selected to participate in the development of a local Climate Health Adaptation Plan. Funding was provided through grants from the Oregon Health Authority and the Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pilot their Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) Framework. Using input from CIRC, a Climate Change Health Risk Model was used to determine which climate risks (e.g. drought and reduced summer water supply; extreme heat events; wildfire; extreme precipitation and flooding; ozone pollution; and longer growing season) would have the greatest health impact allowing better alignment of climate change planning and public health preparedness. During the same period, CIRC also advised the City of Eugene, Oregon on a first ever update to the city's hazard mitigation plan to include climate change impacts. Eugene received funding from the State of Oregon, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as drawing on city resources. CIRC provided plausible future climate scenarios for 2030 and 2060 helping to develop a new vulnerability assessment tool combining climate and hazard vulnerability assessments. The survey tool was used to collect information from city departments including: drinking water, health care and public health, sanitary sewer, electricity, natural systems, housing, food, transportation, stormwater, communications, and public safety on the adaptive capacity and sensitivity of their systems to climate change and other hazards. Interviews were conducted with 150 agency employees over 90 hours. Personnel assigned low, medium, and high risk scores for their systems producing an overall score comparable across systems, and an accompanying narrative highlighting key vulnerabilities. This information eventually was used to prioritize recommended actions in the updated Hazard Mitigation Plan. CIRC's engagement with these two local governments provided several lessons for applying climate knowledge in practice and about delivery of local climate services including: 1) that stakeholders can motivate and lead assessment processes combining different kinds of expert guidance and judgment—including climate science information; 2) that Federal, state, and local programs and funding can be crucial to motivating climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning at the local level—particularly for health and hazards; and 3) local mandates and leadership can drive development of novel climate assessments and planning approaches when climate expertise is available, viewed as legitimate, and willing to participate in local processes at minimal or no cost.
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