New Insights on Community Resilience and Adaptation

Compounding Crises in the Face of Climate Extremes
Helgeson’s work is deeply intertwined with the economics of community resilience, which includes planning for and responding to climate challenges and extreme weather events.

One of the pressing challenges low-income and socially vulnerable communities face is resource constraints. “Resources cover more than money,” said Helgeson. “Do people have the time and mental space to deal with community resilience planning while basic needs remain unmet?”

For instance, businesses face challenges when preparing for hurricanes and other potential disasters. And if the cost of preparing for an event leaves them financially strained, they may be ill-prepared for the next one.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a transformative impact on me and other researchers, prompting us to reflect on how resource-strapped communities and businesses grapple with a multitude of challenges, including unexpected crises like the pandemic,” shared Helgeson.

NIST’s Role in Helping Communities Become More Resilient 
Helgeson emphasizes the need to consider not only the economic aspects of climate change impacts but also the unique structure of each community. To help ensure that the benefits of adaptation are broadly shared, solutions must emphasize equity and justice, and incorporate a wide range of values and knowledge sources.

For example, a recent study that Helgeson co-authored revealed that eastern North Carolina is facing a critical challenge from flooding events that bring together rain, river and ocean flooding. These “compound” events are more complex and devastating than single-flood incidents and can strain local resources.

Yet, despite limited resources, local emergency managers often have a deeper understanding of their community’s needs than their state and federal counterparts do. The report highlights the emergence, in North Carolina and elsewhere, of local and community-led adaptation efforts. Along with increasing collaboration among city, tribal, state and federal governments, this indicates a movement toward more inclusive and equitable approaches to climate adaptation.

NIST is actively working on addressing climate change and community resilience issues, including initiatives related to integrating climate change work into planning tools for communities. The NIST Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems and companion playbook provides a practical and flexible approach to help all communities improve their resilience by setting priorities. NIST’s Economic Decision Guide Software (EDGe$) online tool and accompanying ASTM standards can help these communities determine how best to allocate resources to manage risks.   

NIST’s contributions to the NCA5 highlight the role of economic analysis and interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing climate change and community resilience. Helgeson aims for this work to shed light on the challenges faced by low-income and socially vulnerable communities and the path toward building a more resilient future. As we confront the realities of climate change, the NCA5 calls for local solutions, equitable policies, and community empowerment as essential in safeguarding our future.