Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenarios

What Is VCAPS?

The Vulnerability, Consequences, and Adaptation Planning Scenarios (VCAPS) process supports planning by local decision makers concerned about coastal management and climate change vulnerability and adaptation.

The VCAPS process is intended to help communities become more resilient to weather and climate change. During VCAPS, community members:

  • Engage in dialogue about future weather and climate threats.
  • Summarize and integrate local knowledge and experience about how the community will be impacted.
  • Identify gaps in data, knowledge, or understanding.
  • Think strategically about how to prevent harm by taking action in both the short and long term

VCAPS builds on concepts of hazard management and vulnerability and uses participatory modeling techniques to organize and document dialogue and learning. Local knowledge and experience is integrated with scientific knowledge. The process is flexible and can be fine-tuned to the interests of participants.

Why Use VCAPS?

Often, the information available to local decision makers about coastal hazards and climate change is about direct impacts in the environment: magnitude of sea level rise, increases in precipitation, changes in water temperatures, areas at risk of flooding, and numbers of extreme heat days.

But, what do these mean for a specific community? What will be the result of sea level rise, more stormwater runoff, and more days over 90ºF?

VCAPS helps local decision makers make sense of how such outcomes in the environment translate into social, economic, health, and other consequences in their community. It also helps them identify near-term and long-term strategies for adaptation and hazard management.

VCAPS accomplishes these outcomes through facilitated conversations that produce scenarios, represented by diagrams, linking climate and weather changes to local consequences. The diagrams also show opportunities for appropriate adaptation actions. Diagrams of causal pathways are created during a conversation using a concept-mapping program. Participants usually include elected officials, staff from local and state government, regional planners, business owners, interested residents, and other interested groups or organizations. Multiple meetings are usually held. During the conversations, people engage with scientists to clarify their understandings and assumptions and answer questions about climate change and adaptation challenges their community will face in the future. VCAPS encourages people to explore myriad environmental, economic, health, social, and other impacts that may emerge in their community.

Specifically, information produced during a VCAPS process can include:

  • description of current system responses to existing hazards or conditions,
  • description of how current system responses will change under new conditions, including thresholds (e.g., 1 foot SLR),
  • identification of new responses that may emerge under new conditions, and
  • identification and prioritization of strategies for preventing or mitigating consequences.

Where Has VCAPS Been Used?

In 2011, VCAPS was initially tested and refined through its application in two South Carolina coastal communities. Since then, it has been applied in additional communities in Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and South Carolina with the assistance of research, out-reach and extension partners. In addition, training workshops have been conducted to show local planners and extension agents the benefits of using the scenario-building approach to identify climate change adaptation strategies.

' [VCAPS] brings to light . . . what I should be thinking about when looking at new proposed projects and how they should be designed with regards to more frequent storms and sea level rise.

— Town Official


We completed an assessment of 14 implementations of VCAPS 3 to 10 years after they were completed, and the results have been published in Environmental Science and Policy. We sought to learn about the outcomes and impacts of VCAPS for adapation planning.

VCAPS was implemented by Hawaii Sea Grant as part of the West Kauaʻi Community Vulnerability Assessment and by the Western Water Assessment in the City of Cortez, Colorado and Town of Carbondale, Colorado.

The website Planning for Climate Change Impacts on Shellfish in Wellfleet Harbor addresses the potential impacts of climate change on shellfish and shellfishing in the Massachusetts community.

A press release from the White House Council on Environmental Quality has a link to a NOAA Sea Grant press release that links to our work on climate adaptation planning in coastal communities.

VCAPS is listed among many climate change decision support tools by Open Channels, a forum for ocean planning and management.