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Research Questions

  1. What are current patterns of exposure in the continental United States?
  2. How are exposures of national infrastructure systems to natural hazards expected to evolve in response to climate change?
  3. In what areas are there significant data gaps to assess infrastructure exposure?
  4. How could the missing data, if filled, improve the nation's ability to assess infrastructure risk and improve infrastructure resilience?
  5. Which regions in the country have infrastructure uniquely exposed to a complex set of natural hazards?
  6. Where do infrastructure exposures remain most uncertain?
  7. Where would new data and analysis be most valuable?

Communities, companies, and governments at all levels in the United States are making decisions that will influence where, what and how infrastructure will be built. These design and policy decisions shape infrastructure, influence economic development, and influence future exposures to natural hazards for decades.

Population growth and shifts, particularly those on the coasts, drive demand for new infrastructure, and, as a result, increase the exposure of infrastructure to natural hazards. These natural hazard exposures are projected to be larger and more uncertain in the future because of the effects of sea level rise and projected changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. Thus, incorporating natural hazard risk assessment into infrastructure planning is becoming both increasingly important and challenging.

This report summarizes insights we have gained about the exposures to U.S. infrastructure from natural hazards now and in the future. Our analysis identifies regions in the country where infrastructure may be uniquely exposed to a complex set of natural hazards. In those regions, our analysis highlights the types of infrastructure that are exposed and the hazards that put them at risk. Our analysis also reveals where infrastructure exposures may be expected to change most dramatically. Finally, our analysis reveals where infrastructure exposures remain most uncertain and where new data and analysis would be most valuable. Each of these findings can inform federal efforts to improve infrastructure and resilience planning.

Key Findings

  • Infrastructure exposure to natural hazards is expected to increase — and, in some cases, increase substantially — across the continental United States.
  • Infrastructure in some areas of the country currently faces disproportionate exposure to natural hazards, and this exposure is likely to increase in the future as a result of climate change.

Recommendations

  • Infrastructure and community resilience efforts should incorporate potential impacts from climate change and potential increases in exposure to natural hazards.
  • More granular information is needed about specific natural hazard exposure and the specific infrastructure in a community to respond effectively to climate change-induced natural hazard exposure changes.
  • Addressing issues of planning effectively and comprehensively to improve resilience against current and future exposure to high-intensity natural hazards will require multifaceted efforts that include collecting descriptive information from and about communities, improving scientific knowledge about hazard phenomena, and developing tools and institutions to plan mitigation strategies for the complex and uncertain array of natural hazards that do and may increasingly threaten communities across the nation.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: The Need to Better Understand Current and Future Hazard Exposure

  • Chapter Two

    Defining and Analyzing Infrastructure Exposure

  • Chapter Three

    Current Patterns of Exposure in the Continental United States

  • Chapter Four

    Climate Change and Natural Hazard Exposure

  • Chapter Five

    Findings and Policy Considerations

  • Appendix

    Interactions Between Infrastructure and Hazards

The research described in this report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Infrastructure Protection and conducted in the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center (HSDC), a joint center of two research divisions: RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment and the RAND National Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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