BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University is launching what it calls a first-of-its-kind tool regarding climate change. The Hoosier Resilience Index aims to help local governments and Indiana residents understand their communities' climate change vulnerabilities and how they can respond. The institute is part of the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, which began in 2017.

IU says the index uses publicly-available data to provide community-specific information for local leaders. The data include information about extreme heat and precipitation projects, flood plain and land use maps, and demographic information of vulnerable neighborhoods.

Andrea Webster, implementation manager for the Environmental Resilience Institute, tells Inside INdiana Business says the index is divided into two parts.

"The first part provides and aggregation of data on climate vulnerabilities for every single county and every single incorporated city and town in the state of Indiana," said Webster. "The second part is a readiness assessment. That allows communities to work through an assessment of how prepared they are for their specific vulnerabilities.

The data comes from a variety of public sources, including the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others. IU says the index is one of the first state-specific tools to package climate change information for local governments in this way. The readiness assessment involves a questionnaire on which communities can score themselves and find areas of improvement.

Webster says the tool is necessary because it makes climate change much more real. 

"Climate change is something that is happening even in the state of Indiana, but it's a slow burn. We're experiencing it little-by-little every single year and things are gradually getting worse. If we don't start doing something now, then by the time something gets really worse, we're going to be impacted pretty heavily. So I think this tool really helps local governments to understand exactly how they will be impact by climate change and how they're already being impacted in some cases."

The institute beta tested the index in four Hoosier communities, including less populous towns and counties, which the university says sometimes struggle with finding data relevant to their areas. 

"Every Indiana community is facing challenges as a result of the environmental changes that are happening," Janet McCabe, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute, said in a news release. "Across the state, we will be seeing more days of extreme heat, heavy rain, and flooding, but there is no one-size-fits all approach to dealing with these impacts. The Hoosier Resilience Index puts local governments in control of their community’s future—not only showing every town, city, and county the challenges they are likely to face in the years ahead, but also supplying a framework to help local officials assess community preparedness, prioritize the most important actions, and make a plan."

Webster says the institute's goal is to get as many communities using the tool as possible. She says they want community leaders to use the readiness assessment to find their scores, and then use the assessment again in 3-5 years after they've had an opportunity to implement any necessary changes.

Ultimately, Webster says the Hoosier Resilience Index could serve as a model for other states throughout the Midwest and beyond.