FHWA Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA's) Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Framework is a guide for use in analyzing the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on transportation infrastructure, assessing adaptation options, and modifying decisionmaking processes. The framework is designed to help identify key considerations, questions, and resources that can be used to develop and implement a climate change vulnerability assessment. The processes, lessons learned, and resources outlined in the framework are geared toward State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and other agencies involved in planning, building, or maintaining the transportation system. The first edition of the Framework was developed in 2012, and it was most recently updated to the third edition in January 2018.

The Framework is organized into six substantive chapters that outline key steps in the vulnerability assessment and adaptation decision-making process:

  1. Articulating Objectives and Defining Study Scope - this section provides guidance on how to set the geographic scope and level of detail for an assessment, and how to characterize relevant assets (e.g., asset criticality) for the assessment.
  2. Obtaining Asset Data for the Vulnerability Assessment - this section contains generalized information about asset types, sources, and characteristics, and provides best practices on how asset data can be collected in preparation for a vulnerability assessment.
  3. Obtaining Climate Data for the Vulnerability Assessment - this section provides guidance on relevant tools and resources to help agencies identify climate data that should be used for their assessment, pointing to tools and resources developed by FHWA or other agencies. It focuses on temperature and precipitation changes, as well as coastal and riverine hydrology.
  4. Assessing Vulnerability - the guide overviews different approaches (with examples) that agencies can use to assess vulnerability (which entails exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity), including a stakeholder input approach, an indicator-based approach, more detailed engineering-informed assessments, and information on considering risk.
  5. Identifying, Analyzing, and Prioritizing Adaptation Options - the guide provides two categories of approaches to assessing adaptation options: a multi-criteria analysis approach, and economic analysis approaches. For each, the guide includes examples from practice and additional resources to assist in these analyses.
  6. Incorporating Assessment Results in Decisionmaking - this section contains examples from practice and resources to guide agencies in incorporating assessment results into different stages of transportation decisionmaking: planning; project development and NEPA review; project design and engineering; systems management, operations, maintenance, and emergency management; and asset management.

Compared to previous versions, the third edition of the Framework includes expanded information to assist in analyzing adaptation options and incorporating results of vulnerability assessments into decisionmaking. The third edition was also updated with findings from the most recent National Climate Assessment, and cites to resources and reports that FHWA has developed and published in recent years, as well as many examples in practice from state DOTs and MPOs - some of which have been supported with FHWA funding. Resources that the Framework is informed by include: two rounds of climate resilience pilot projects that FHWA sponsored in 2010-2011 and 2013-2015 (which were undertaken by State DOTs and MPOs to implement, test, and inform earlier versions of the framework), the Gulf Coast Phase I and II studies, revised Hydraulic Engineering Circulars for coastal and riverine environments, the Hurricane Sandy Study, and more.

The online Framework has guidance for six steps in the assessment process, which are detailed as modules:

Module 1: Articulate Objectives
Module 2: Identify Key Climate Variables
Module 3: Characterize and Select Assets
Module 4: Assess Vulnerabilities
Module 5: Integrate Vulnerabilities into Decision-Making
Module 6: Monitor and Revisit

Each module includes an overview, a summary of key steps, an introductory video, and links to case studies, tools, and other resources. Several of the modules include tools developed by FHWA to help transportation agencies implement their assessments. Suggestions and examples are included which represent a wide range of applications, from small qualitative studies to large, detailed, data-intensive analyses.


Publication Date: 2012, 2018

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  • Assessment guide


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