Building capacity for adaptation action through the Wisconsin Climate and Health Program

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 6/25/2019 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Projected climate impacts for Wisconsin, including increased flooding and precipitation, extreme temperatures (hot and cold), and drought, among others, can affect mental health and lead to increased disease and illness. With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) is helping local health departments and others prepare for and respond to climate-related public health impacts. Specifically, WDHS created the Wisconsin Climate and Health Program to study how climate impacts public health and to create strategies, tools, and trainings to help communities prepare for health outcomes related to climate change.


In September 2012, WDHS received a three-year grant from the CDC’s Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative to study how climate change affects public health in the state and to create strategies, tools, and trainings to help communities prepare for and respond to these impacts. Subsequent funding was awarded by the CDC in 2016 to continue implementing activities and evaluate the effectiveness of their activities.

The long-term goal of the Wisconsin Climate and Health Program is to prepare the state to be resilient in the face of climate change through a better understanding of climate-related public health vulnerabilities with a focus on extreme heat, flooding, and vector-borne disease. Primary stakeholders include local public health departments, local governments, and emergency management and preparedness offices.


The Wisconsin Climate and Health Program has engaged in a number of different activities, including:

  • Assessing vulnerabilities to extreme heat (i.e. heat vulnerability index) and creating a climate and health profile report;
  • Developing a series of toolkits and companion fact sheets to help local governments, local health departments, and citizens prepare for and respond to different impacts;
  • Creating the Wisconsin flood mapping tool, which looks at risk and vulnerability of communities, priority populations, and infrastructure within the 100-year floodplain;
  • Developing a flood resilience scorecard for communities to assess environmental, social and institutional, and sociodemographic vulnerabilities and identify recommended actions for enhancing resilience;
  • Partnering with the vector-borne disease program to produce educational materials (e.g.,  surveillance brief, videos);
  • Providing technical and financial assistance to seven different communities to engage in climate change and public health planning, including convening meetings to present impacts, identifying feasible adaptation options, and helping develop implementation plans; and
  • Working with the Milwaukee Health Department, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, and UniteMKE to conduct a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) for Milwaukee. A CASPER is typically done post-disaster to collect information about a community, but the WDHS used it prospectively to collect data and information about community needs during an extreme heat event.

In their efforts, WDHS has frequently used the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, National Climate Assessment, and the 2011 Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts report.

Outcomes and Conclusions

As a result of this work, the Wisconsin Climate and Health Program has created several products to help Wisconsin prepare for the public health impacts of climate change. Example products include:

  • Heat vulnerability indices for Wisconsin, Milwaukee, counties, and tribes;
  • Toolkits and companion fact sheets for extreme heat, flooding, wildfire, drought, harmful algal blooms, and vector-borne diseases, among others; and
  • A Climate and Health Community Engagement Toolkit and companion Climate and Health Community Engagement Workbook.

Partnerships (e.g., with universities) have helped facilitate the department’s adaptation efforts while some barriers that have arisen include politicization of climate change, staff capacity, and finding additional funding sources. The Wisconsin Climate and Health Program is now evaluating the CASPER tool and data collected to determine whether to apply it in other communities. Additionally, they are testing and evaluating the feasibility of the flood resilience scorecard in two rural communities. Longer-term next steps include updating their climate adaptation plan and better integrating climate change and health equity into WDHS programs.


Kershner J. 2019. Building capacity for adaptation action through the Wisconsin Climate and Health Program [Case study on a project of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated June 2019)

Project Contact

Colleen Moran
[email protected]

Affiliated Organizations

The Department of Health Services (DHS) is one of the largest and most diverse state agencies in Wisconsin, with an annual budget of roughly $11.5 billion and more than 6,100 employees. DHS is committed to protecting and promoting the health and safety of the people of Wisconsin, making sure everyone can live their best life.

Related Resources