The Army is deploying a web-based climate assessment tool to help installation leaders and personnel understand and prepare for exposure now and in the future to coastal and riverine flooding, drought, desertification, wildfire and thawing permafrost as part of an Army strategy to bolster installation climate resilience.
The service introduced the Army Climate Assessment Tool to Directorate of Public Works staff at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in February and Directorate of Public Works staff at Fort Hood, Texas, in March. Armywide access to the tool will be available in early 2021.
Alex Beehler, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, in April signed a memorandum deploying an initial version of the tool at 73 installations. An updated version of the tool with data on more climate impacts was launched at 116 installations on July 28.
The Army Climate Assessment Tool, developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will support the service’s priorities of readiness and modernization. The tool will help preserve mission readiness of Army installations as they perform their critical role as global power-projection platforms. Installations must also modernize at pace with weapon systems, organizations and doctrine to be operationally resilient to man-made and natural threats, including climate change.
Development of the tool began in fiscal 2018 in response to the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a sense of Congress providing that “military installations must be able to effectively prepare to mitigate climate damage in their master planning and infrastructure planning and design, so that they might best consider the weather and natural resources most pertinent to them.”
The Army Climate Assessment Tool will help Army installations identify climate-related threats that could degrade their mission readiness, including their critical roles in mobilization, power projection, force generation and depot readiness. It incorporates the latest actionable data and model results regarding climate change and extreme weather as prescribed by the scientific community.
The tool uses data to indicate a particular installation’s exposure to projected climate change and extreme weather threats. This data includes projected climate impacts through 2050 and 2085 under multiple emissions scenarios, as well as observed historical data regarding hurricane and tornado intensity and location.
Collectively, this information provides a screening-level assessment of the exposure of Army locations to extreme weather and changing climate. This allows prioritization of more detailed studies to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience to these impacts. Prioritization supports effective and efficient preparedness and resilience investments.
Climate preparedness improves reliability of missions and operations and reduces response and recovery costs. The tool helps users identify existing climate risks, aiding in answering questions such as: Are climate risks imminent or expected to occur in the near term? Are climate risks expected to evolve over time as climate changes or as missions and operations change? What are the approximate time frames for these risks to occur?
Identifying climate hazards will guide installation master planning and integrated natural resource management planning for installations, and help integrate climate impacts. The tool will help installation leaders protect the mission readiness of installations and allow budget development requests for climate resilience projects.
Meeting Future Needs
Installation master planning is a continuous analytical process that involves evaluation of factors affecting the present and future physical development of an installation. This evaluation forms the basis for determination of development objectives and planning proposals to solve current problems and meet future needs.
Each step or element of the process builds upon the preceding step, providing a logical framework for the planning effort. The product of this process is a series of interrelated documents, which together comprise an installation master plan. One of these documents is the Master Plan Report, which provides a concise, comprehensive definition of planning proposals, as well as a record of the analytical process and rationale by which these proposals were developed.
Integrated natural resource management plans are planning documents outlining how each military installation with significant natural resources will manage those resources. They integrate military mission requirements, environmental and master planning documents, cultural resources and outdoor recreation to ensure both military operations and natural resources conservation are included and consistent with stewardship and legal requirements. These plans require installations to look holistically at natural resources on a landscape or ecosystem basis. They are living documents that provide direction for daily natural resource management activities, and provide a foundation for sustaining military readiness.
A Vulnerable Army
The Army is already vulnerable to extreme events, said Kate White, lead of the Climate Preparedness and Resilience Community of Practice and Civil Works Guidance Program. This was recognized in the 2015 DoD Screening Level Vulnerability Assessment Survey. Additionally, according to the January 2019 Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense, more than two-thirds of the military’s operationally critical installations are threatened by climate change.
Climate concerns were also noted in a number of Government Accountability Office reports, including the June 2019 GAO Report 19-453: Climate Resilience: DoD Needs to Assess Risk and Provide Guidance on Use of Climate Projections in Installation Master Plans and Facilities Designs.
During Fort Bragg’s introduction to the Army Climate Assessment Tool, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center provided examples of climate risks from installations that have had direct operational impact. Examples included thawing permafrost, which halted training activities; monsoons, causing damage to facility structures and target/weapons systems; flooding, causing extreme erosion damage to helicopter landing zones, road and train networks; freezing rain, affecting range operations by “locking” moving parts on targets; drought, with increased wildfire risk resulting in restrictions on type of ammunition utilization; and smoke from wildfires that affected aviation operations.
Also cited were indirect operational impacts, which include loss of training days or travel time for training events; delays to testing schedules; potential encroachment issues caused by extreme weather patterns that may impact species migration and changes to wetlands; temporary or prolonged loss of available training lands due to severe erosion issues; and restrictions on types of training or ammunition utilization due to prolonged drought conditions.
The Army is working to identify energy and water vulnerabilities through Installation Energy and Water plans, which are required to factor changing climate and emerging threats. As of Aug. 1, 21 such plans have been completed, with the remainder scheduled for completion over the next two years.
The Army’s new construction projects are designed to withstand local seismic and climatic conditions, including forecasts from Corps of Engineers flood models. Where possible, the Army is not building new construction projects in 100-year flood zones. Other mitigation measures include hardening buildings or raising their foundations. Additionally, the Corps issues construction bulletins to update building standards to adapt to existing and emerging threats.
The Army published an Army Climate Resilience Handbook in August. This handbook complements the Army Climate Assessment Tool and supports field staff in their evaluation of the impacts of climate change on installations in order to plan effective and efficient resilience measures.
The Army is committed to addressing climate change impacts on mission readiness. Army installations are vulnerable to climate-related threats. Strengthening the climate resilience of Army installations is critical to maintaining mission readiness in the face of climate-related disruptions.