Cover: Mitigating Risk That Climate Change Poses to the National Critical Functions

Mitigating Risk That Climate Change Poses to the National Critical Functions

Strategies for Supply Chains, Insurance Services, Emergency Management, and Public Safety

Published Apr 16, 2024

by Susan A. Resetar, Andrew Lauland, Michelle E. Miro, Jay Balagna, R. J. Briggs, Liisa Ecola, Jessica Jensen, Benjamin Lee Preston, Kristin J. Leuschner


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Research Questions

  1. Who are the actors responsible for climate risk mitigation for each of the four NCFs examined?
  2. What kinds of climate risk mitigation strategies are currently being pursued?
  3. What are the enablers and barriers to these strategies?
  4. Are there gaps in the risk areas in which there are few strategies or options to mitigate risk?
  5. What might be needed for transformative change?

The National Critical Functions (NCFs) are those functions vital to the United States' economic and national security, public health, and safety. Climate change effects have the potential to disrupt routine operations of these functions. Climate risk mitigation strategies are intended to reduce an NCF's vulnerability to, or the consequences from, direct and indirect effects of climate change. This report is intended to inform risk mitigation planning and decisionmaking by contextualizing climate risk mitigation through a review of mitigation strategies for four NCFs: Maintain Supply Chains, Provide Insurance Services, Prepare for and Manage Emergencies, and Provide Public Safety.

These NCFs were chosen because they (1) rely on varying amounts of infrastructure and personnel to function and (2) have moderate or higher risk of disruption from climate change assessed at the national scale by 2100 using the current emissions scenario. To be at moderate risk of disruption at the national scale, an NCF would have to be expected to experience effects to routine operations over a large geographic area but remain operational in most of the country. Some of these NCFs also have high potential to cascade risk onto other NCFs. A high-level synthesis of risk mitigation for each NCF is provided, as is information on barriers, enablers, and illustrative examples. The current study builds on the team's previous work to examine climate risk and mitigation options for the NCFs.

Key Findings

  • The NCF framework that extends traditional focus on physical assets to a focus on function can be a useful lens through which to consider climate adaptation.
  • Maintain Supply Chains is a complex, widespread NCF with no singular actor or geographic concentration but many potential choke points for disruption. This fact makes risk mitigation a diffuse activity that is difficult to centralize or assess for efficacy.
  • Prepare for and Manage Emergencies and Provide Public Safety are personnel-heavy functions with a lot of local-level activity. This reality means that risk mitigation must address localities' diverse needs in order to meet the challenges resulting from more-frequent or severer climate drivers in the future.
  • Mitigating risk for Provide Insurance Services depends both on direct activities to shore up vulnerabilities in the insurance market and on indirect activities that mitigate the risks covered by insurance.
  • These four NCFs can be affected by community preparedness and hazard mitigation investments implemented by other NCFs' stakeholders, which exemplifies how risk mitigation investments in upstream NCFs can generate dividends to other NCFs.
  • Better-coordinated and -targeted mitigation efforts are needed to reduce risk.
  • Data on the functional and geospatial relationships of NCFs are often insufficient to provide insights into system risks for specific localities.
  • Mitigating indirect risk to an NCF could be as effective as (or more effective than) mitigating direct risk to the NCF itself.
  • More-transformative risk mitigation efforts need to account for policy and systemic vulnerabilities, including cascading effects.


  • Extend the analysis of the strategies presented in this report to provide practical guidance and information to entities that are starting to plan for and implement their own mitigation-related investments.
  • Develop practical guidance from case studies of additional climate adaptation strategies already in place to identify the lessons learned from those actors that have implemented them.
  • Describe how strategies could be adapted to changing climate conditions as a part of an adaptive management approach to climate risk mitigation.
  • Develop methods for understanding and tracking progress toward effectively mitigating climate risk from particular climate drivers and identifying additional opportunities for adjusting existing strategies to the changing risk landscape.
  • Perform a similar analysis for the other 51 NCFs, particularly NCFs that are highly interconnected with, and depended on by, a large number of other NCFs or those at high risk of disruption due to climate change.
  • Create tools to conduct interdependence analysis to provide additional context about the return on investment not only within an NCF from adopting a specific climate adaptation strategy but also across NCFs.
  • Develop tools to provide decision support to help select between and prioritize among alternative climate adaptation measures.

This research was conducted in the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program within RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

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.