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Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Planning: Agency Roles and Workforce Development Needs
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  • Alternative Title:
    Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Planning : Agency Roles and Workforce Development Needs : A Research Report from the National Center for Sustainable Transportation
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  • Abstract:
    This report is one of two NCST Research Reports produced as part of a project to evaluate the state of practice and adequacy of technical tools for resiliency and adaptation planning. A companion report, Network Requirements for Assessing Criticality for Climate Adaptation Planning, focuses specifically on the technical challenges of conducting criticality assessment for climate adaptation and resiliency planning. Because climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme weather events, climate adaptation and resiliency planning are increasingly important tasks for transportation agencies at all levels of government. While specific climate threats and adaptation needs varies by location throughout the United States, all agencies face challenges in terms of resource availability (including staffing levels and staffing expertise) and the quality of the technical tools for adaptation planning. In 2015, the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center conducted a survey of planning organizations in the U.S. concerning climate adaptation planning intended to assess the adaptation planning capacity, workforce development needs, and current preparation levels of local and state agencies as well as the adequacy of currently available technical tools. The survey consisted of 14 multiple choice or open-ended questions and garnered 154 respondents, including representatives from planning organizations, state transportation agencies and others involved in transportation planning. Given the significant infrastructure owned by local agencies, both local and regional agencies have an important role to play in adaptation planning. Particular attention must be paid to asset criticality rating that cannot be conducted in isolation by either the local or the state agency since it must account for the network redundancy and vulnerability of both state and local infrastructure. Additional policy discussions are needed regarding the roles of different agencies. The study results point to preparation gaps for agencies at all levels. A preparation gap is any instance when an agency is aware of its exposure to a particular climate threat but is not yet preparing for that threat. The survey identified that only 20% to 80% (depending on the threat) of agencies at risk from a given threat are actively preparing for that threat. Presumably responses were biased towards more active and engaged agencies, so the preparation gap of all U.S. agencies is likely to be higher than the agencies that responded to this survey. State agency personnel generally indicated a smaller preparation gap for all threats and a higher percentage of state agencies were undertaking both procedural and infrastructure adaptations than local agencies. Surprisingly few of the planners in the study indicated that their agencies were pursuing adaptation actions. As expected, more adaptation actions were procedural rather than infrastructure adaptations. However, 20% of local agencies indicated no procedural actions and 12% of all agencies indicated no infrastructure actions. This points to a need to track actions over time and ensure that identified barriers are reduced and that other significant barriers to action implementation are not present but unmeasured. Future surveys should also seek to understand which types of actions and preparation are reasonable within a given agency’s mission. Tools and resources, especially staff time, are clearly barriers to adaptation planning efforts. Both state and local agency respondents assessed many adaptation tools and resources as lacking. The number of staff was cited as the most limiting resource. The complexity of transportation networks makes the development of robust objective tools and the associated input data challenging. This part of advancing the planning effort may best be assigned at this time to academic institutions. Respondents in this study affirmed that workforce development is an important part of advancing climate adaptation and resiliency planning. More work is needed in examining the workforce development needs of transportation agencies by factors such as region and type of organization. In addition, a higher level of specificity of the skills and qualifications is needed to inform development of new training, new hires, and educational curriculum that prepares the future workforce. Our recommendations include additional targeted funding, developing a continuum of workforce development offerings, developing professional communities of practice and using online technology as a platform for climate adaptation planning workforce development.
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