Climate change is anticipated to increase and exacerbate hazards, impacting all phases of emergency management and hazard mitigation in California. Building resilience is critical to confront these hazards. For additional background information and discussion of climate impacts and vulnerabilities of the Emergency Management Sector, visit the Background & Climate Impacts information excerpted from the Adaptation Planning Guide and explore the Topic search below.

Emergency management encompasses preparedness, disaster response, recovery, and longer-term resilience planning. Further information on climate adaptation planning is covered on the Land Use and Community Development page and the Adaptation Planning Guide. Example adaptation strategies are provided on the Adaptation Strategies Page and can be found in many of the resources available by search below.

Defining the Sector

The emergency management sector focuses on hazard mitigation to reduce risk from climate effects and natural hazards. This sector encompasses emergency operations equipment and personnel, evacuation routes, and at-risk populations with access and functional needs. The four basic phases of emergency management include mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.10

  • Mitigation. Sustained action taken to eliminate or reduce the severity of long-term potential for harm to human life, property, and the environment from the impacts of future disasters. Note that this emphasis on long-term harm distinguishes hazard mitigation from actions geared primarily to emergency preparedness and short-term recovery.11
  • Preparedness. Activities conducted in advance of an emergency to develop operational capabilities and improve response to disasters and/or emergency events. Preparedness differs from hazard mitigation by its focus on immediate post-disaster action.
  • Response. Activities conducted to respond to an event or disaster to save lives and prevent harm to the public, property, animals, and the environment during an emergency. It includes actions such as rescuing survivors, providing for mass evacuation, feeding and sheltering victims, and restoring communications.12
  • Recovery. Activities that restore vital life support systems to minimum operating standards after an emergency and support the return of communities to a (new) state of normality. It includes such actions as restoration of essential transportation, utilities, and other public services; repair of damaged facilities; provision of both temporary and replacement housing; restoration and improvement of the economy; and long-term reconstruction that improves the community.13

Mitigation and preparedness go hand in hand. In situations where time or financial resources preclude long-term hazard mitigation in the natural and social environment, it becomes very important to undertake plans and actions to prepare for emergencies, making it easier to respond to and recover from them.14

Extreme Weather

As summarized in Safeguarding California (2018), climate change affects emergency preparedness, response, and recovery; therefore, it is critical to ensure community resilience against its effects.

According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the international body for assessing climate change and science), climate change will continue to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.15 Extreme weather is defined as events, such as droughts or floods, that have historically occurred on average only once in 100 years and vary from “the norm” in severity or duration. California is currently experiencing unprecedented impacts from extreme weather. Severe drought, which started in 2011–12, was intensified by the driest four years on record (2012–2015) and the smallest and second smallest recorded Sierra snowpack (2015 and 2014). Further, 2014, 2015, and 2016 were the warmest years on average.16 In contrast, 51 out of 58 counties declared states of emergencies during the 2017 winter storms for flooding, which resulted in three federal disaster declarations.17 Record-breaking wildfires also continue to impact California with increasing frequency, size, and devastation. Two of the three largest wildfires in California’s history have been in the past five years, burning a total of 529,225 acres.18 In 2015 alone were two of the top ten most destructive wildfires in California’s history.19 Climate change is anticipated to increase and exacerbate these and other hazards—including extreme heat events, sea level rise, tsunamis, and flooding associated with atmospheric rivers, like those experienced in the 2017 winter storms—as well as slower onset changes like rising temperatures, which have additional impacts (e.g., increasing the severity of extreme heat events and wildfires).

Major Vulnerabilities

Emergency management systems, such as public safety, emergency medical services, and emergency operations, are typically prepared for natural and human-made disasters in communities. However, with the increase in intensity and frequency of climate change effects, these systems can become overwhelmed and may not be able to meet the needs of the community. For example, during an extreme heat event, hospitals could become overwhelmed with emergency room visits for heat stroke, dehydration, and respiratory illnesses. Emergency medical services may not be able to reach those in need due to flooding, landslides, or severe weather that blocks roadways or makes driving dangerous. At-risk populations, such as persons without access to lifelines, persons with chronic illnesses, and persons with disabilities, can be overwhelmed by one or more climate-related hazard events, causing evacuation fatigue that prevents them from evacuating.

Other key components of emergency management systems are evacuation routes and emergency shelters. These components are essential in response to a disaster to move people away from the hazard-affected area to a centralized location for emergency supplies and information. Evacuation routes can become blocked by wildfires, flooding, and landslides, making evacuation efforts nearly impossible. Some evacuation routes, such as those in mountainous areas, may not have enough capacity to effectively move residents and visitors away from the hazard-affected area in a timely manner. Emergency shelters and operation centers are also vulnerable to damage or destruction by climate-related hazards, which could occur simultaneously with a disaster that requires their use.

Emergency communication systems can be knocked out or disrupted during extreme weather events or wildfires. This can disable evacuation notifications that are essential to getting people out of harm’s way. The telecommunication systems may also not be effective at reaching all sectors of the population, such as linguistically isolated populations and persons with disabilities that require alternative forms of communication.

Appendix C provides examples of ways that communities can support a more resilient emergency management sector as part of adaptation planning effort. These strategies are generalized approaches that can be refined for the specific emergency management activities and programs in a community.

Climate hazards Adaptation Strategy Factors to Consider Category Sector overlap Responsible Agencies Funding Examples & Sources
Emergency Management Sector
All climate hazards Strategy EM-1: Revise emergency management plans, programs, and activities to account for changing hazard profiles and their consequences. Changes to the frequency and severity of climate-related hazards may cause existing emergency management efforts to be less effective. A community’s existing resources may not be enough to adequately prepare for and respond to more frequent and intense disasters, or existing emergency plans may not adequately account for new hazard regimes. To ensure the continued effectiveness of emergency management efforts, these efforts should be developed to account for anticipated future climate conditions and associated hazard regimes, as well as addressing current needs. Climate-smart emergency management activities will likely require an increased commitment of staff time and expertise, materials and equipment, and other resources. Multi-jurisdictional emergency management efforts can allow for communities to effectively share resources but ensure that there is also a sufficient supply if all participating communities are simultaneously affected by a major disaster. Be mindful that future projections of climate conditions are likely to change based on future levels of greenhouse gas emissions and as scientific understanding evolves. Use the most recent best science to inform emergency management efforts whenever plans, programs, and activities are updated. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Evaluation Operational Education, Outreach, Coordination Transportation Energy Cities and Counties Safeguarding California: 2018 Update
All climate hazards Strategy EM-2: Integrate findings of climate vulnerability into all phases of emergency planning. Emergency planning, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts, should be tailored to match the specific needs of the community. These efforts should incorporate the findings of the vulnerability assessment and be responsive to any unique challenges in the community identified through the assessment. This should include addressing the needs of populations who may be less able to effectively prepare for or respond to emergency events, ensuring that critical facilities and services are protected and kept operational during disasters, and conducting recovery operations to improve resiliency relative to pre-disaster levels. Numerous plans, operating procedures, programs, and other efforts cover the full spectrum of emergency management activities, and these activities may be managed by different agencies. It is important to coordinate efforts across activities and agencies to ensure that the results of the vulnerability assessment are being appropriately integrated. In particular, ensure that vital life-saving emergency management efforts such as evacuations, shelters, emergency medical response, and temporary housing are responsive to any unique needs of the community. Climate-smart emergency planning efforts should be reflected in implementation activities, including training for both professional emergency responders and community volunteers. Evaluation Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Operational Public Health Energy Transportation Land Use and Community Development Cities and counties State and federal agencies
All climate hazards Strategy EM-3: Develop a notification system for natural hazards that is responsive to community needs. Emergency notification systems are a critical type of communication, letting people know of potential, impending, and ongoing disaster events. Community members can find out how they can prepare for a future event, what they can do and where they should go to be safe, and how they can make recovery easier. These vital pieces of information should be communicated clearly and effectively in a way that reaches as many community members as possible (and ideally, all of them). Emergency notification information should be distributed as widely as possible. Television, radio, email, telephones, text messaging, and social media should all be used as appropriate. For mitigation and preparedness notifications, there is often enough time to conduct in-person awareness and educational efforts. Notifications can also be made at existing meetings and gatherings, such as religious services, school board or PTA meetings, and other well-attended events. Ensure that notifications are made in all commonly spoken languages in the community. Consider the needs of community members who may have functional needs, such as vision or hearing-related disabilities, and ensure that there are means for them to receive important information. It may be helpful to partner with existing community-based organizations to help distribute notifications about emergency issues, particularly in places where some community members may be more insular or where there may be lower levels of trust for government agencies. Programmatic Capital Improvements & Infrastructure Projects Education, Outreach, Coordination Public Health Cities and Counties Tribal State and federal agencies Safeguarding California: 2018 Update
All climate hazards Strategy EM-4: Assess the potential for climate refugees as a sending or receiving community and develop short- and long-term strategies for shelter/housing and services. As demonstrated by recent wildfires in California and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, there is a potential for significant movement of people in response to climate-related disasters. This may be short-term, evacuation-associated displacement while response operations occur or longer-term displacement due to catastrophic loss of structures and infrastructures and the supporting economy. Such displacement activities have profound impacts on the evacuating community, but also on the community receiving a large influx of people. Communities should develop scenarios for the rapid and significant change in population and the associated social, cultural, environmental, and economic effects. These planning efforts should consider both the needs of the community to evacuate elsewhere (a sending community), as well as the possibility of the community to accept people evacuating from elsewhere (a receiving community). Bear in mind that such displacements may be short-term, long-term, or in some cases permanent. Communities may not have the need or the resources to conduct detailed studies of their ability to act as sending and receiving sites, but it is worth exploring at a general level at the very least. When examining potential for a sending community, consider issues such as how to maintain necessary levels of community services while residents are elsewhere, how to rebuild quickly and effectively so as to bring residents back, and if wholesale reconstruction of the community offers unique chances to improve any aspects of the community’s health, safety, well-being, or overall quality of life. When looking at potential to act as a receiving community, consider issues such as how to house incoming persons in a manner that is safe and affordable, where their property can be stored, and what increases in community services may be needed to meet the greater demand. In both cases, work to ensure that displaced people can receive news and information from both the sending and receiving communities. Evaluation Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Programmatic Land Use and Community Development Cities and Counties Tribal State and federal agencies Community-based organizations Butte County Recovers
All climate hazards Strategy EM-5: Ensure that emergency management activities are being conducted equitably. Emergency management activities should be responsive to the needs of all community members, but these needs vary widely. Differences in ability, language, income and economic means, access to lifelines, living situation, and many other factors all influence how community members can mitigate and prepare for disaster events, and respond and recover to them. Inclusive emergency management efforts recognize these differences and provide the tools, information, engagement, and other resources to ensure that the health, safety, and well-being of all community members is equitable addressed. Communities should convey information about emergency management activities to a wide audience, which means communicating in many different formats, and in multiple languages as appropriate. Different forms of educational efforts could be needed. To address differences in adaptive capacity, some community members may need financial assistance, or help with labor or equipment. Recognize that people who do not own their home may be more limited in their emergency management capacity, even if they are not disadvantaged in other respects. As discussed elsewhere in this guide, differing levels of vulnerability are often a function of systemic issues that may not be apparent to people who are not part of disadvantaged communities. If the staff conducting the emergency management planning are not reflective of the makeup of the community, it may be helpful to have an advisory group of community members who can more knowledgeably speak to equity issues, and to conduct regular outreach with and to seek feedback from members of the community who face equity issues. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Education, Outreach, Coordination Public Health Cities and Counties State and federal agencies USDN Guide to Equitable, Community-Driven Climate Preparedness Planning

Featured State Resources

All Resources for Emergency Management