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State Department Infrastructure at Risk from Climate Hazards

State has concluded that natural hazards may pose a threat to the safety and security of its overseas diplomatic assets, consisting of more than 90,000 personnel and properties valued at approximately $70 billion in its 294 locations. Posts in the East Asia and Pacific region are at high risk across more types of natural hazards relative to other regions.

In 2020, the State Department created a Climate Security and Resilience program. The program assesses the risk natural hazards pose to each of its 294 locations around the world. Its first risk review, as of May 2022, suggests half of facilities at highest risk are in East Asia and the Pacific. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) developed an interactive map based on State’s data showing risks for every post.

State selected eight natural hazards for its assessment: coastal flooding, riverine flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, water stress (i.e., lack of fresh water to meet demand), extreme heat, extreme wind, and landslides. State considered natural hazard exposure, potential severity of damage based on post-specific information, and vulnerability factors (post-specific and country-wide) to determine risk. A variety of internal and external sources were used to measure the vulnerability of each post. Internal information sources include estimates for the number of personnel that may require evacuation, used as a proxy for evacuation logistics. 

State has concluded that natural hazards may pose a threat to the safety and security of its overseas diplomatic assets, consisting of more than 90,000 personnel and properties valued at approximately $70 billion in its 294 locations. Posts in the East Asia and Pacific region are at high risk across more types of natural hazards relative to other regions. State’s data suggests that the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines, is the post at highest risk of being affected by natural hazards compared to all other posts. The Manila embassy, located on the coast of Manila Bay, experienced significant flooding in 2012 following a typhoon. In July 2022, post officials reported that a magnitude 7 earthquake occurred on the northern Philippine island of Luzon, and embassy staff located in Manila experienced tremors. In August 2022, the embassy in Manila was flooded due to heavy rainfall.

GAO said the presence of a high hazard exposure does not necessarily mean a post is at high risk relative to other posts, because post-specific conditions may indicate low impact or susceptibility to that hazard. For example, if a post is located near a coast but comprises newer facilities with ample access to critical services, State would score the post as lower overall risk relative to other posts, even if the city could be at high exposure to coastal flooding. State officials told GAO that its risk assessment is iterative in nature and that they intend to continue to refine and update the assessment.

In October, State shared a progress update of its Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan. The Department noted that it has completed reviews of Emergency Action Plans for all posts to evaluate if any additional climate considerations are needed for adequate preparation and completed a risk assessment for all overseas facilities that will inform adaptation priorities. State has also completed a supply chain assessment to identify potential disruptions from climate change. According to the update, Resilience Innovation Grants enabled over 22 projects that enhance operational resilience with innovative solutions such as new water treatment and recycling systems, new systems controls, and improvements to landscapes to reduce the need for irrigation and attract pollinators to support the local ecosystem. 

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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