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Research Questions

  1. What adaptation strategies are available to address climate risk to NCFs?
  2. How can the effectiveness and feasibility of existing adaptation strategies be assessed?
  3. What tools are available to assist stakeholders with climate adaptation?

One in a series examining the risks climate change presents to the United States, this report examines climate adaptation strategies for 25 National Critical Functions (NCFs) at greatest risk of disruption from climate change. Climate drivers include major weather events, such as hurricanes or floods, and the effects of sea-level rise or drought. The authors examined the adaptation strategies available, how to assess their effectiveness and feasibility, and what tools are available to assist with these efforts. The focus was on impact pathways — how climate change might disrupt an NCF — each of which is a combination of climate drivers (such as drought and flooding) and impact mechanisms (such as physical damage and workforce shortages) affecting a given NCF. The emphasis is on strategies that owner-operators—state, local, tribal, and territorial governments and private-sector stakeholders — of critical functions might implement to adapt to such climate risks.

Key Findings

  • Some adaptation strategies were found to be effective for multiple impact pathways. For example, “building sea walls and coastal protection structures” is an effective strategy for mitigating both the coastal flooding and sea-level rise climate drivers and is applicable to nine of the 25 NCFs.
  • Some impact pathways had multiple possible effective strategies, with ten or more adaptation strategies identified in certain cases.
  • Some NCFs are dependent on other NCFs, making addressing the related impact pathways worthy of consideration for investment in adaptation strategies. A particular example is the Distribute Electricity NCF, which has the most dependent NCFs.
  • In general, the strategies identified have medium to strong evidence of their relevance and effectiveness in mitigating risk.
  • Strategy feasibility ratings were mixed, and only a small portion of the strategies were assessed to have an impact on cybersecurity vulnerability.
  • Many decision-support tools of varying quality and currency are available that could be used to guide vulnerability assessments and investment decisions. The authors identified 50 guides and tools that owner-operators could use to assess potential adaptation strategies.


  • Provide additional decision-support tools to owner-operators in the commercial sector and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to help them select strategies and assemble packages of strategies.
  • Factor the consequences of NCF disruption into future risk assessments.
  • Focus on developing robust communication material to help stakeholders understand climate change risk and adaptation strategies.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and conducted by the Strategy, Policy and Operations Program within the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center.

This report is part of the RAND 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.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.