4: Assessment, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation

The Assessment, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation section provides information on several key elements for each of these actions, including decision support information, tools, and guiding questions. There are existing resources specific to Maine that can support these processes, and it is recommended to refer to them for further information. Sample questions to help decision-makers understand how natural hazards impact their community and identify resilient courses of action are also available in Appendix E: Sample Risk Assessment Framework and Guiding Questions. These questions can be used at the start of a project, for evaluation during the project, or after completion to determine if objectives were met. The questions are a starting point and can be expanded upon.

4.1 Introduction to Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Planning

Communities must account for climate change in their ongoing design and management of systems and infrastructure due to continually changing conditions. Although there will be opportunities for large-scale evaluation of community actions, it is important to integrate climate change considerations into individual projects and plans as they are developed.

As outlined in the US Climate Resilience Toolkit, the five “Steps to Resilience” are:10

  1. Explore Hazards
  2. Assess Vulnerability and Risk
  3. Investigate Options
  4. Prioritize and Plan
  5. Take Action

Vulnerability refers to the sensitivity of communities and the built and natural environment to climate change. Risk is closely related to vulnerability and refers to the magnitude, extent, or probability of harm from specific hazards. Identifying where communities are vulnerable, as well as the extent of the risks, are important steps in developing strategies that make a community resilient. Uncertainty analysis is a means of recognizing the limits of scientific knowledge about any climate change projection and what is unknown about projected risks. Recognizing uncertainties helps prepare a community to respond to unanticipated changes as they occur, particularly by taking actions that benefit the community under different scenarios.

Select considerations included from the Municipal Climate Adaptation Guidance Series (2017):

  • Infrastructure built to withstand conditions based on historical data may no longer be sufficient for anticipated future climate conditions.
  • Reacting to emergencies without adequate preparation is more expensive than responding based on good preparation.
  • Municipalities are more likely to undertake climate resilience and adaptation planning when this work can be integrated into existing municipal efforts and priorities, and when it is based on data appropriate for use at the local scale.
  • To address the impacts of climate change, a community first needs to determine its level of vulnerability. This is called a vulnerability (or impact) assessment.

As an example, approach, the Greater Portland Council of Governments has initiated Sustainability Data and Mapping work using census data, future flood mapping, and sea level rise projections to identify high-risk areas throughout the region that are more prone to flooding due to projected climate change impacts. This data can support targeted community outreach and engagement to identify at-risk assets and prioritize resilience projects.

4.2 Natural Hazards in Maine

Natural hazards in Maine might include climate changes that are observed and likely to continue, such as:

  • Severe Summer Weather
  • Severe Winter Weather
  • Flooding
  • Wildfire
  • Drought
  • Hurricane
  • Erosion
  • Earthquake
  • Landslides (Mass Wasting)

As described in the State Hazard Mitigation Plan, (Maine.gov, Maine Emergency Management Agency) (PDF), many natural hazards can occur during a single hazardous weather event. For instance, hurricane events introduce the hazards of storm surge, wind, inland flooding, and tornados, while blizzards introduce the hazards of wind, snow, and ice. Furthermore, natural hazards tend to occur in seasonal groups.

If developing a community-wide assessment, a multi-sector and multi-hazard approach is best. If developing a specific infrastructure assessment, it may be sufficient to use only a multi-hazard approach.

Impact assessments have been conducted in Maine that document the effects of climate change on the daily lives of Mainers and Maine communities. The following reports, and the literature referenced within, offer our most up-to-date scientific assessments for Maine:

Scientific Assessment of Climate Change and its Effects in Maine: The Maine Climate Council’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittee final report is part of the State Climate Action Plan and summarizes the impacts of climate change in Maine and how it might impact our state in the future.

Maine’s Climate Future: The Maine’s Climate Future Reports (UMaine Climate Change Institute) are prepared by scientists across the State of Maine and the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

  • 2020 Maine’s Climate Future: 2020 Update, the University of Maine
  • 2018 Coastal Maine Climate Futures, the University of Maine
  • 2015 Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update, the University of Maine
  • 2009 Maine’s Climate Future: An Initial Assessment, the University of Maine

The DEP Climate Trends and Data webpage (Maine.gov, Maine DEP) contains the sources provided in the CRW as well as many others to provide a one-stop directory of the best available data and reports to use while conducting vulnerability assessments. Furthermore, the Maine Risk Assessment Map – Overview (Maine Maps ArcGIS) includes relevant GIS information.

Table 2 in this document includes decision support information and tools aligned with steps of the Resilience Building Framework (refer to the resources checked in the ‘Assess Risk’ column for impact reports, trends, and data sources to use for vulnerability assessments).

Guiding questions

  • What natural hazards are potential risks to your community or infrastructure?
  • What is already known from historic information about those natural hazards and the impacts they have caused on your community or infrastructure?
  • What is projected for these natural hazards with climate change in the future that corresponds to your community vision or infrastructure timespans?
  • What scenarios create the worst-case events for use in your analysis?
  • What data sources or community insights were used in your analysis?
  • Did you consult with national, regional, and local experts for the best available information?

4.3 Hazard Mitigation

Hazard Mitigation: Prepare for Current Hazards and Future Emergencies

Alignment with State and Maine Climate Council Strategies

  • Strategy A: Embrace the Future of Transportation
  • Strategy B: Modernize Maine’s Buildings: Energy Efficient, Smart and Cost-Effective Homes and Businesses
  • Strategy F: Build Healthy and Resilient Communities
  • Strategy G: Invest in Climate-Ready Infrastructure

Hazard mitigation describes sustained actions taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risks to people and property caused by natural hazards. Natural hazards are pervasive and can impact any community regardless of its location, sometimes with little notice. These impacts are only expected to grow with the onset of climate change and the expected increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, including flooding, coastal storm surge, windstorms, and drought.11 Rather than simply rebuilding what is damaged in each disaster, only to perpetuate the vulnerability of this now-replaced infrastructure, hazard mitigation is intended to break the cycle by emphasizing planning and implementing projects in non-disaster times that can persistently reduce a community’s vulnerability to future events. Healthy and resilient communities develop hazard mitigation plans and implement projects identified in those plans to reduce risks to life and damage to property and the environment. Every $1 spent on mitigation can save $6 in future disaster costs, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences findings.

The goals of mitigation planning, akin to other local planning mechanisms, are means of anticipating and avoiding potential disruptions in community safety, services, communication, and business. Hazard mitigation and emergency management/preparedness are priority items for municipal planning and budgeting due to the pervasive and potentially destructive nature of floods, hurricanes, ice storms, wildfires, and other natural hazards. As a result, hazard planning requires broad input from multiple stakeholders – community members, local/state emergency managers, regional planners, technical experts, and other local, state, and federal authorities. Hazard Mitigation Plans are formal documents reviewed and approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to encourage planning activities that reduce long-term risk and make communities eligible to apply for federal mitigation-related funding programs.

Communities are encouraged to look critically at their existing planning framework and align efforts with the goal of building a safer, smarter community. These planning efforts lead to mitigation actions, which can vary significantly from wildfire educational programs to the improved construction of previously flooded road-stream crossings, to relocating homes or critical facilities (hospitals, fire stations, schools, etc.) away from hazardous areas. Incorporation of these plans is specific to each community and depends on the vulnerability of the built environment and the capabilities provided by local emergency management and other critical facilities. In general, concepts of mitigation and emergency management are important planning elements for all land use, transportation, watershed management, natural and cultural resource protection, economic development, climate change, and sustainability.

Relevant and recent case studies of local projects in Maine include:

Guiding questions

  • What geographical areas and populations are likely to be affected in the future due to climate change, and how do these impacts differ from the present?
  • What are the specific impacts of climate change on the geographical area and population of interest, and how long into the future are those impacts expected to occur?
  • What infrastructure is the most important to ensuring the safety of the town and its residents (e.g., hospitals, evacuation routes, etc.)?
  • What built and natural infrastructure can be constructed, improved, or preserved to reduce the impacts of climate change?
  • What built and natural infrastructure should be prioritized in terms of making a community more resilient to climate change?

4.4 Community Engagement, Outreach, and Adaptive Capacity

Involving diverse groups and people in a community’s planning process is a key element of success for ensuring that plans and intended projects connect with people and places where climate change stands to have the greatest and most adverse impacts. Engaging the community can align plans and projects to reflect the needs and priorities of the people who will be most affected. Finally, engagement, outreach, and education efforts can help strengthen learning, relationship building, and network and community development, and improve adaptive capacities allowing communities to more effectively and equitably adapt over time. See Sections 5.2 and 5.3 for more information on how to best engage with communities.

Education, outreach, and community engagement are necessary to help people learn about, talk about, and plan for climate change impacts in their communities which is why these come first in the above table. These efforts lay the foundation for adaptive capacities, which refers to social abilities like information sharing, learning, network formation, relationship building, the development of shared identities and sense of belonging, community histories and memories, and more. Social abilities allow people to understand each other, connect with multiple forms of knowledge, and make shared and equitable decisions about how to promote resilience and what to do about climate change.

These social abilities can support more flexible and effective governance. For example, if community leaders want to update their comprehensive plans and include consideration of projected climate change impacts so they can prepare for future emergencies (which would be an example of adaptive governance as resilience criteria and improved emergency preparedness as an outcome), people within that community need to understand what those projections are (i.e., improved scientific knowledge) and how different groups of people are more vulnerable to the changes than others (making equity a priority).

Guiding questions

  • What does your community care most about?
  • What does the community envision for its future?
  • Who in this community is on the frontlines of climate change and what are they already doing to build resilience?
  • What knowledge do community members have about climate change impacts here?
    What do community members need to know to make informed decisions about adaptation?
  • How can educational materials share scientific information and multiple forms of knowledge about climate change? How can this information be designed to accommodate multiple languages, abilities, and perspectives?
  • How can this project create opportunities for learning, relationship building, and networking?
  • How can intentional approaches to learning, relationship building, and networking help this community change governance structures, like comprehensive plans, ordinances, and budget priorities? What do community members need to know and who needs to be involved to make governance decisions and changes?
  • What do community members identify as priority improvements in local governance?
    What would it take to enact these changes to governance?

4.5 Whole Community Resilience

This section describes foundational considerations and guiding questions that can help shape resilience planning and assessment at all levels, so these processes are equitable and effective and connect with what communities care about most.

One of the reasons that climate change is such a pressing issue is that it is already negatively affecting people who may be the least able to adapt. In places where economic opportunities may be more limited, those who rely on natural resources for their livelihoods are already finding it difficult to adapt to environmental changes. For example, people in Maine communities and Wabanaki Tribes who need to access intertidal ecosystems to dig soft-shell clams or harvest mussels are already finding it difficult to maintain their livelihoods because rising ocean temperatures are leading to growing populations of the invasive green crab, which eat species of shellfish and threaten important fisheries. This ecological change has a clear and outsized impact on individuals and businesses.

Making equity a priority can help address often disparate impacts and consequences of climate change. A focus on equity can also strengthen community efforts by ensuring that project considerations are localized to reflect the interests, perspectives, and priorities of those who live there. It may take additional time to set up a process with inclusive engagement across the community and an approach that signifies diverse perspectives and represents the interests of vulnerable communities. A project that is shaped by this approach will ultimately be more meaningful, effective, and sustainable because it will have authentic and broad community support. Inclusive participation processes can help support learning, relationship building, networks, and related adaptive capacities that strengthen community resilience.

Sample questions related to the criteria outlined in Section 4.8 can help plan, monitor, and evaluate projects. The guiding questions, criteria, and metrics can be applied to better understand and improve projects over time. For example, by initially considering the guiding question “How can we best work with community members most affected by climate change,” project leaders can establish intentional ways of measuring engagement, such as tracking the total number and demographics of participants over time. If community engagement is not considered until later in the project, valuable information may be lost, and opportunities for community engagement may be missed. Guiding questions are intended to improve the meaningful and measurable outcomes of a project.

Guiding questions

  • Who in this community is most vulnerable and what are the specific risks to these groups?
  • Who is or who will be most affected by changes in our community? How are those groups responding to these changes?
  • Will some people be more affected by changes than others, and what helps explain the differences in who will be affected? Consider differences in race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, income and socioeconomic status, ability, and age.
  • What are the specific impacts of climate change on the geographical area and populations of interest, and how long into the future are those impacts expected to occur?
  • How can affected communities participate in projects to ensure their voices and concerns are represented?
  • Who else in this community is already working with affected groups and how can service providers and affected parties become involved?
  • How can projects use a bottom-up and inclusive approach to designing and implementing a project?

In addition to these guiding questions, the Equity Subcommittee has also identified the following cross-cutting recommendations in their February 2022 report Initial Recommendations of the Equity Subcommittee (Maine.gov, Maine Climate Council) (PDF):

General: The state, through its climate communications and equity work, should seek to foster a sense of shared ownership and shared prosperity in the climate transition.

Participation and Procedural Equity: All state policy, program, and other decision-making processes should seek to enable equitable participation from vulnerable and historically underserved communities. Enabling equitable participation might include:

  • Paying vulnerable community members for their time
  • Providing wrap-around services, such as transportation and childcare
  • Increasing access to all programs in languages other than English
  • Producing “plain language” guides that help explain particular decisions or decision-making processes
  • Including representative participants of impacted groups in program co-design processes
  • Utilizing existing social networks to engage communities in state decision-making
  • Adjusting meeting times and locations to enable participation by diverse populations

4.6 Socioeconomic and Cultural Consideration

Climate adaptation projects can have co-benefits or positive outcomes for a range of indicators. For example, a project that focuses on planting riparian buffers or forests alongside streams and rivers to help keep the water cooler and maintain brook trout populations can also strengthen food security and food sovereignty through selective planting. The resilience-related outcomes in this section assess some of the most important values in communities by providing metrics that evaluate the health of local economies, recreational opportunities, food systems, the quality of ecosystems, housing, and the prioritization of support for those who need it most.

Guiding questions

  • What are the cultural, social, economic, recreational, and environmental co-benefits that could occur by adapting to climate change in specific ways?
  • What and where are the cultural sites that need to be protected from the impacts of climate change? Who needs to be involved in decisions about cultural and historic preservation?
  • How is climate change affecting community well-being? How can climate adaptation projects improve community well-being?

4.7 Implementing a Plan, Continuous Assessment, and Budgets

Many of the considerations mentioned above, such as equity, community engagement, education, and outreach, aim to design resilience and climate adaptation plans that generate momentum, support, and community investment for implementation and action. Assessment is a key focus of this section, as it strengthens how engagement can lead to action. By including assessment throughout a project, communities can continuously evaluate progress without necessarily needing to hire an evaluator. With some advanced planning, such as identifying key outcomes and metrics for data collection, continuous assessment can be achieved. This information can be a valuable resource for addressing challenges, maintaining flexibility, adaptability, and inclusivity over time. Assessments should also consider funding, including the capacity to implement a plan and how to secure funding for ongoing efforts.

Guiding questions

What outcomes matter in this community and how will progress towards these outcomes and eventual success be measured? How can these data be used to inform the project as it evolves?

  • Does the plan provide clear, well-defined, flexible, and timely strategies for implementation?
  • Does the plan have a timeline for when actions need to be completed to ensure project goals are achieved?
  • Are specific stakeholders assigned the responsibility for implementing and monitoring each action?
  • Do all actions have well-defined cost estimates and corresponding funding sources?

4.8 Resilience Assessment Criteria

This section identifies resilience metrics commonly used to evaluate processes and outcomes. It follows a “backward design” approach that is extensively used in educational settings. This approach enables people to identify their objectives or the project’s end goal so they can work backward to determine how they will measure that outcome over time12. This approach also applies to developing a planning document. For instance, if project collaborators aim to enhance their emergency preparedness, one metric could be the number of available shelter spaces for displaced families during extreme weather events. Backward design complements the Resilience Building Framework described in Section 2 by focusing on identifying outcomes and evaluation metrics during the “Make a Plan” and “Evaluate, Monitor, and Adapt” phases of the framework.

Using backward design and continuous assessment throughout the life of a project can help collaborators address and adapt to problems or challenges as they arise. For instance, if project collaborators prioritize the outcome of improved community engagement and begin to track the numbers and demographics of people participating in project-related meetings, they can more accurately identify the need to change engagement strategies if participation numbers are low or if key groups are not represented.

This section is organized by six main criteria for assessing resilience, including (1) community engagement, outreach, and education; (2) adaptive capacity and governance; (3) socioeconomic and cultural considerations; (4) vulnerability, risk assessment, and uncertainty analysis; (5) infrastructure; and (6) plan implementation, continuous assessment, and budgets. Each criterion is associated with a set of broad outcome metrics, such as improved awareness and improved adaptive capacity. Each outcome is further associated with a series of metrics that provide specific ways to observe and measure the outcomes (Table 3).

The Climate Adaptation & Resilience Outcomes Tool (CAROT) (UMaine SharePoint Excel) provides a set of resilience criteria, outcomes, and metrics. Communities can use this downloadable Microsoft Excel-based workbook to define and measure success over time. CAROT features dropdown menus that allow users to identify potential resilience metrics (e.g., number of buildings) for evaluating adaptation outcomes (e.g., improved awareness). Outcomes are further broken down into specific foci (e.g., housing, engagement) to help narrow the list of metrics.

CAROT has three primary spreadsheets:

  1. Tool: Drop-down menus for stakeholders to better navigate the metrics list to help stakeholders identify potential metrics;
  2. Full Metrics List: The full list of climate adaptation outcomes, metric categories, metrics, and their respective sources; and
  3. Sources: A reference list and description of the sources the metrics were obtained

Most users will only use the ‘Tool’ tab. However, the other tabs have been included for transparency and completeness. Please note, the Tool needs to be downloaded for the features to work properly.

As mentioned in Section 2, equity is a fundamental priority. This approach aims to integrate equity across all criteria rather than treating it as a stand-alone category. This workbook accomplishes this in two ways. First, it includes equity-related metrics on the full metrics list spreadsheet, which are based on the three equity categories described in the above framework: social impact, vulnerable populations, and participation and inclusion. For each category, metrics are available to assess equity by using specific practices such as collecting demographic information, providing educational resources or emergency notifications in multiple languages, or prioritizing climate change-related efforts (education, funding, projects, etc.) for underrepresented or minoritized groups.13

Table 3: Example resilience criteria, outcomes, and metrics within CAROT

Resilience Criteria Outcome # Metrics
Community Engagement, Outreach, and Education Improved awareness 58
Improved community characteristics 69
Improved engagement 13
Adaptive Capacity and Governance Improved adaptive capacity 5
Improved emergency preparedness 33
Improved scientific knowledge 5
Improved climate change mitigation 21
Improved zoning 3
Socioeconomic and Cultural Improved economic resilience 12
Improved recreation opportunities 17
Improved food security 12
Improved ecosystem health 46
Improved housing resources and infrastructure 19
Improved resources for impacted populations 7
Vulnerability, Risk Assessment, Uncertainty Analysis Reduced flood risk 71
Reduced impacts on water quality 19
Reduced mortality, morbidity, and disease 6
Infrastructure Improved infrastructure 16
Plan Implementation, Continuous Assessment, and Budgets Improved monitoring 7
Improved planning 49

Continue to #5: The Importance of Collaboration and Partnerships →

10 The vulnerability assessment process covered in the Municipal Climate Adaptation Guidance Series (2017) stems from US CRT “Steps to Resilience” framework. The 2017 Guidance Series was developed collaboratively by the Municipal Planning Assistance Program of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Blue Sky Planning Solutions, and many of Maine’s regional planning organizations to emphasize the importance of becoming familiar with the risk and vulnerability process for all municipal decision-makers tasked with climate change action.

11 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (PDF)

12 Grant P. Wiggins & Jay McTighe (Eds.). (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

13  The information in the equity metrics column provides a sample of the type of information that can be included to assess equity commitments. More work is needed to reduce the total number of metrics and further specify what equity means in practice for any community. When selecting outcomes and metrics, project collaborators should tailor metrics and questions to consider social impacts, vulnerable populations, and/or participation and inclusion factors that are relevant in their communities to further shape how equity-related outcomes are measured.