Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Quantitative Data

For Adaptation planning, data sets can include quantitative or qualitative data or a mix of both. Quantitative data typically includes census data that detail the unique demographic information including population, household, and transportation relevant to a particular geographical area. In the adaptation-planning context, quantitative data can assist policymakers with capturing the historic frequency of weather events and patterns affecting specific geographic areas and the social and economic characteristics of the populations that live within those areas. This data can also help to identify the frontline communities that are most in need of policy interventions to protect residents from climate-related weather and hazard events. The following provides examples, but not an exhaustive list, of the types of quantitative that has assisted policymakers with adaptation planning.

Climate Data

A screenshot of the climate.gov webpage hosted by NOAA, displaying a map of the US that shows a projection of average temperatures under a stabilized emissions scenario. The Pacific Northwest is shaded mostly light blue, while the rest of the country is mostly light to medium orange, with a deeper red color signifying greater temperature increases in the southern United States.
An example of climate data maps available from NOAA on climate.gov. This map shows a 2012 projection of projected daily average temperature for each month from the 2020s through the 2090s, based on a stabilized-emissions future.
(Credit: NOAA)

Developing an understanding of the climate-related weather threats a community can face is a critical first step in effective adaptation planning. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is the government agency responsible for monitoring patterns in the nation’s climate.See footnote 1 NOAA collects and reports on forecasting and weather trends while tracking changes in historic patterns.See footnote 2 NOAA coordinates among several federal agencies to build and sustain several datasets that record weather and climate data. This data typically includes sub-daily (for many stations), daily, monthly, seasonal, and yearly measurements of temperature, precipitation, and wind among other weather variables.See footnote 3 NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) provides free public access to climate and historical weather data information on the Climate Data Online (CDO) website.See footnote 4 The site provides access to search, data, and mapping tools that can provide users with weather patterns matched with geographic data. 

NOAA’s collection of online climate data sets also contributes to the findings in the National Climate Assessment (NCA). The NCA report is the U.S. Climate ‘State of Union’ that assesses long-term trends in U.S. climate and projects future changes in climate impacts.See footnote 5 These assessments have been instrumental in synthesizing the effects of climate change on water resources, land use, and biodiversity among other categories across eight geographic regions. The assessments provide scientific data and analysis that informs policymaking to direct more effective decisionmaking.

As a part of the interagency coordination of climate information, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) also provides a platform for key climate information in the form of indicators that contribute to the NCA, including greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, temperatures across land and sea, and the extent of Arctic sea ice.See footnote 6 Scientists use long-term consistently collected data to develop these indicators that can assist local, state, and federal policymakers to prepare for, take action on, and improve community resilience.

Geospatial Information System Software (GIS/PPGIS)

Since the 1990s, policymakers have embraced Geospatial Information System Software (GIS) to capture geographic and spatial data to produce maps and data to provide imagery, features, and base maps that allow policymakers to monitor and map a given area for research and analysis and identify spatial patterns.See footnote 7 There are options to use either open source software or commercial GIS mapping.See footnote 8 GIS information enables a range of options policymakers can use to forecast, manage, and respond to events and trends that can inform adaptation planning, project selection, and implementation.

There are many entities outside of U.S. federal agencies that are layering data with geospatial tools to develop maps and new models to predict areas and activities susceptible to climate-related risks. For example, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has created and updated a data platform called Aqueduct.See footnote 9 Aqueduct tools identify and evaluate water risks including floods, droughts, and stress to help advance best practices in water resource management. The tool provides global decisionmakers with access to hydrological models and maps that identify areas of current and future water stress.

Other proprietary resources that capture climate-related risks include the Four Twenty-Seven databases.See footnote 10 These climate models capture simulations of the Earth’s future conditions and future trends in temperature and precipitation. Four Twenty-Seven designed these models to assist companies with assessing the risks of wildfires, sea-level rise, and water stresses as it relates to business practices. The Bloomberg MAPS database is another platform that assembles over 200 datasets on infrastructure, communications, weather, and natural catastrophes to help the world’s leading banks assess climate risk exposure in their loan portfolios.See footnote 11 Although these resources are intended to help companies address threats to supply chains and critical infrastructure, state and local policymakers may find these databases helpful in assessing potential financial risk due to lost tax revenue caused by disruptions in commercial activity within their jurisdictions.

Policymakers can add an additional layer of information to traditional GIS data by including information collected by the public. Volunteered Geographic Information and the development of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) are platforms for geographic information science that increases the data available for mapping and other graphic representations to inform decisionmaking.See footnote 12 These software tools allow individuals to provide community input about geographic data that assigns value from a community perspective that enhances the quality of data available to inform adaptation planning. The integration of both quantitative and qualitative data provides an equity-based approach by taking into consideration the first-hand perspectives of the community to capture the true insights and lived community experiences to inform decisionmaking.

Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI)

A map of the US titled, "Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards" showing data from 2010-2014. The map shows parts of the US signifying social vulnerability to environmental hazards based on the Social Vulnerability Index, with red counties indicating high vulnerability, white indicating medium, and blue indicating low. There are notable red clusters in the southwestern United Stated and Florida, and notable blue clusters where Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado meet, and along the east coast.
Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards map for the United States (2010-2014) based on the Social Vulnerability Index. (Credit: Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, University of South Carolina College of Arts & Sciences)

The Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) is a program that layers geospatial data with 15 U.S. census variables to provide policymakers with the tools to analyze a community’s socioeconomic vulnerability to potential environmental hazards and disasters. Developed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University at South Carolina, the index is a publicly available tool that synthesizes county-level socioeconomic and demographic data and is useful as an indicator in determining the differential recovery potential from natural disasters. The population characteristics included in the modeling captures the cumulative impacts of social and economic factors as indicators about the likelihood that a community can withstand and recover from climate-related events. Characteristics including gender, race, ethnicity, employment statistics, social dependence, education, and medical services can inform policymaking by identifying segments of the community or specific neighborhoods or locations that would most likely benefit from policy interventions. Policymakers can then use the data to identify racial, economic, and social disparities to align policy goals and planning objectives to meet the unique needs of the community. 

When adaptation plans are informed by data sets and mapping tools, including the SoVI databases and maps, state and local governments have scientifically substantiated information to generate estimates for the amount of supplies needed including food, water, medicine, and bedding to prepare for climate-related weather events among other policy interventions. Policymakers can use the SoVI databases to inform decisionmaking about where resources are most needed and how emergency personnel can best assist people in the event of a sudden climate event. The social vulnerability index can be useful to researchers, planners, and practitioners to inform policymaking and may increase the likelihood of achieving equitable outcomes.

Environmental Justice Screening Tools: Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EPA EJScreen)

Environmental Justice (EJ) screening tools provide adaptation policymakers with a method for targeting and prioritizing the needs of communities burdened with existing cumulative social, economic, and environmental health-related challenges. EJ screening tools compile demographic data and geographic data with environmental indicators of toxic exposure and environmental effects to capture the cumulative vulnerabilities of frontline communities.See footnote 13 For example, research has shown that communities of color are more likely to experience higher incidences of cancer risk from air contaminants and contaminants in drinking water.See footnote 14 These tools provide a snapshot of the cumulative impacts of environmental exposures and population vulnerabilities and provide a method for assessing racial and ethnic disparities by geographic area. These methods inform decisionmaking and policy design by providing quantitative data that explicitly pinpoint those communities most in need of support to withstand ongoing and sudden climate-related events.

At the state and federal level, several agencies have developed and/or adopted environmental justice screening tools to direct policy initiatives. In 2015, EPA released the EJSCREEN to assist policymakers with the tools to ensure that programs, policies, and resources consider the needs of communities with higher incidences of environmental burdens such as higher levels of exposure to toxic air or toxic water.See footnote 15 The EJSCREEN’s 12 EJ indices combine demographic information with environmental indicators that include such data as exposure to ozone, proximity to traffic, proximity to Superfund sites, and proximity to hazardous waste facilities. The platform also provides access to color-coded maps, bar charts, and standard reports.See footnote 16 

Environmental Indicators



Hazard Risk

 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)

 Traffic Proximity & Volume

 Neurodevelopmental Hazard


 National Priority List Sites (NPL)

 Toxic Cancer Risk

 Lead Paint

 Risk Management Facilities

 Toxic Respiratory Hazard

Direct Water Discharges (NPDES)



National Air Toxic Assessment/ Diesel in the air



California and Maryland have developed and incorporated similar tools in their policymaking. The CalEnviroScreen is a tool developed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) that maps the “burden of pollution from multiple sources in communities while accounting for potential vulnerability to the adverse effects of pollution.”See footnote 17 OEHHA developed the tool to aid CalEPA with prioritizing the needs of the state’s most burdened communities in administering environmental justice grants, assisting with compliance of environmental laws and reclamation activities, and identifying sustainable economic development opportunities.See footnote 18 While other tools, like the SoVI, only have socioeconomic factors, the CalEnviroScreen includes public health and environmental hazard criteria in addition to socioeconomic indicators. 

In 2012, the California legislature passed SB 535, California Climate Investments to Benefit Disadvantaged Communities, where 25% of proceeds generated by the state’s cap-and-trade program and collected by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will go to projects that provide a benefit to disadvantaged communities, and at least 10% of those proceeds will fund projects within those communities.See footnote 19 Subsequently, in 2016, the California Legislature passed AB 1550 that requires at least an additional 10% of the funds go to low-income households or communities.See footnote 20 CalEPA can target disadvantaged communities using the scoring and mapping of the CalEnviroScreen, to locate census tracts with high amounts of pollution and low-income residents. One state-funded initiative is the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities (DOU) Leak-Free program which pays for leak repair in the homes of low-income Sacramento residents.See footnote 21 Recipients of the service must be homeowners and must live in areas designated by the State of California as being a “Disadvantaged Community” (DAC).See footnote 22 The characteristics of a DAC include poverty, high unemployment, air and water pollution, and the presence of hazardous wastes as well as a high incidence of asthma and heart disease.See footnote 23 Here, mapping tools can help policymakers identify communities that would benefit from policy interventions and adopt sustainable solutions to ensure access to critical resources for everyone.

Similarly in Maryland, the Community Engagement Environmental Justice and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory of the University of Maryland School of Public Health worked in partnership with the National Center for Smart Growth and developed an environmental justice-screening tool for the State of Maryland.See footnote 24 The Maryland Environmental Justice Screen (MD EJSCREEN) provides a resource for identifying, visualizing, and analyzing areas with environmental justice concerns in the state of Maryland. The tool introduces an EJ score or a percentile ranking of areas within the state that reflects the average pollution burden with average population demographic characteristics relative to neighboring areas, state, or country averages to capture the environmental justice risk.See footnote 25 Demonstration workshops that followed the launch of the tool gave community members an opportunity to provide feedback. The MD EJSCREEN can provide both residents and policymakers with critical information to advocate for more parks and greener communities.

Resilience Dividend Valuation Model

One of the questions policymakers are frequently confronted with is how to quantify the costs and benefits of a particular policy solution. In the equitable adaptation context, it is often difficult to assess the value of policies using only indices or scorecards. To address this question, the RAND Corporation developed a framework for valuing the benefits and co-benefits of an adaptation intervention.See footnote 26 The Resilience Dividend Valuation Model inputs data about capital stocks that include natural and human or social resources, goods and services that may change because of resilience projects, direct benefits, co-benefits, and the costs of the project. When applied, the tool identifies the benefits of an adaptation intervention and compares the value against no intervention, or business as usual, in addition to comparing the value of an intervention instituted over a shorter or longer time frame.See footnote 27 While data limitations were noted by the authors as an impediment to capturing the full resilience dividend for certain projects, this emerging approach may help to identify the impacts of policy interventions across stakeholders to better capture multiple benefits and co-benefits and to help understand the effectiveness of equitable adaptation planning.

Application of Quantitative Data & Mapping

The following list captures a few of the current applications of data and modeling tools to locate and map the location of frontline communities for directed planning and policymaking:

  • BRACE Illinois. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework to assist health departments with developing climate change adaptation plans. The BRACE-Illinois project is funded by the CDC to build the capacity of the state’s public health system.See footnote 28 In preparing for climate change, the Illinois Department of Health is developing strategies to address heatstroke, asthma, waterborne illness, and disease spread among other health problems that may be worsened by climate change. BRACE-Illinois used the social vulnerability index to assess asthma deaths and ozone pollution across the state. It also used 15 U.S. Census Bureau counts and estimates to identify communities that are likely to need support when natural or human-caused disasters occur.See footnote 29 
  • US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). USACE Institute for Water Resources utilizes the (SoVI) tool to identify and assess the social vulnerability of a place given its exposure to a hazard. The Corps-specific version of the tool (SoVI-eXplorer) overlays a Social Vulnerability profile with hazard zones using GIS technology.See footnote 30 In the aftermath of the loss of life and devastation from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the Corps commissioned a report on how to increase public involvement in USACE’s flood risk management program to identify and engage socially vulnerable populations during USACE water resource studies.See footnote 31  
  • National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS).See footnote 32 The National Integrated Heat Health Information System layers NOAA Future Heat Event Data with the CDC Social Vulnerability Index data to build a data set about areas at most risk to extreme heat. The initiative provides state and local governments with the tools and reports to enhance understanding and to facilitate policy interventions to reduce the morbidity and mortality caused by extreme heat.
  • EPA National Coastal Property Model. This platform identifies areas along the contiguous U.S. coastline that are likely to be at risk from sea-level rise and storm surges and layers the projections with SoVI results to assess the potential impacts for climate events on frontline communities in coastal areas.
  • NOAA Social Vulnerability Index (2000) for Coastal Counties: The index measures and maps the social vulnerability of coastal counties.See footnote 33 A partnership with the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute and the NOAA Office of Coastal Management applies 2000 census data to coastal states.
  • The Maryland Park Equity Mapper. This tool combines layers of demographic and environmental data to determine the park equity of different census tracts, allowing users to visualize disparities in park access and quality across the state.See footnote 34 The Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) and University of Maryland Center developed the tool for Geospatial Information Science (CGIS).See footnote 35 Residents and policymakers can use this tool in order to identify underserved communities that are in need of new park infrastructure and green space.

Considerations of Quantitative Data and Metric Tools


  • Data and metric tools that measure demographics and socioeconomic strata can help policymakers identify communities that are most in need of policy interventions to withstand sudden and ongoing climate-related impacts and disruption.
  • Data and metric tools can determine how and where to allocate resources to ensure communities are resilient to climate-related impacts.


  • Screening tools that pinpoint areas with high levels of air and water pollution, toxic events and historic environmental degradation can help policymakers identify and address areas with cumulative environmental challenges as vulnerable to climate-related impacts. 


  •  By using data and metric tools as a first step in the planning process, policymakers can design projects that prioritize the needs of communities that are disproportionately impacted by cumulative environmental exposure and are in greatest need of intervention in adaptation planning. 
  • Metrics also provide indicators of government accountability. Ongoing community engagement provides indications about whether the implementation of the policy was actually responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.


  • Providing communities with information about climate hazards before they occur can help local officials establish lines of communication to disseminate the information to those who are traditionally overlooked in disaster and recovery planning and outreach.
  • Cities and local governments can develop training and access to technology to facilitate community engagement and improved data collection and metric selection to build community capacity.


  • State legislation and city ordinances can direct planners to prioritize the use of specific data sets to direct agencies to include data in planning and decisionmaking.
  • Data tools that pinpoint areas of cumulative environmental degradation can provide evidence of violations of environmental law and target areas for heightened enforcement.

Lessons Learned

  • Quantitative data tools can assist policymakers with pinpointing disproportionately burdened low-income communities and communities of color, seniors, and households that are most likely to suffer from climate-related impacts.
  • Quantitative data can inform the communication strategy between local government and the community before a climate-related event occurs.
  • Quantitative data tools can inform the deployment of resources as a part of the hazard mitigation planning process and prioritize the placement of those resources.



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