Saint Paul-Ramsey County vulnerability assessment

Outcomes and Conclusions

The assessment helped Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health understand how environmental risk factors and specific climate hazards affect their community now and into the future. The assessment identified specific areas in the county that are especially susceptible to the effects of climate change.

The assessment was also used in the engagement process for certain community projects. The health department has used this assessment to work with Environmental Initiative and Clean Air Minnesota to create the Business Pollution Prevention Program, which helps businesses improve air quality by reducing pollutants like volatile organic compounds and perchloroethylene. These pollutants affect the employees of the businesses and the people living nearby. All businesses can apply but priority is given to businesses owned by people of color and/or in vulnerable communities. Free technical assistance is given and financial assistance of up to $50,000 can be given to help transition to safer, more sustainable chemicals, and high-efficiency equipment. As of May 2020, approximately $750,000 has been invested in businesses to improve the health of these communities. The health department would not have known to target these businesses without the vulnerability assessment.

The results of the vulnerability assessment were used during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify vulnerable populations. This was especially important for pandemic planning as data emerged about the disproportionate incidence of disease caused by the COVID-19 virus for Black/African American, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic people in Ramsey County.

The vulnerability assessment was a critical first step to help inform the county about necessary populations to engage while completing climate change adaptation planning. The study allows the health department to talk about climate issues as public health issues, which can be helpful when working with groups that are apprehensive about climate change. Officials talk about the health concerns the community might face because of climate hazards versus placing the focus only on climate change.

The health department expects to continue consulting the vulnerability assessment in future adaptation planning as well as help inform community outreach efforts.


During the project, the biggest challenge was how to get enough granular data to make the assessment meaningful for Ramsey County. A quick solution was GIS mapping, but in some instances, there was still not enough useful data. For example, the health department could not get enough information on flash flooding, which prevented them from assessing flash flooding in a quantitative manner.

Another challenge was staff turnover and leadership changes. Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health recommends that other health departments wanting to focus on climate and public health dedicate a full-time position to enable a consistent approach for using the assessment and determining where to invest time and effort to put the results into action. A full-time position could also help elevate the assessment as a useful tool for agencies across the city and county governments to use as well.

Takeaway message

“Before developing a vulnerability assessment, it is important to thoughtfully consider how it will be used, including what groups, be they internal or external, it will inform,” said Terese Bordeau, the intern who worked on the project and later became an environmental health specialist for Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health.

Project Resources

For more information about Saint Paul-Ramsey County's vulnerability assessment, contact:

  • Terese Bordeau
    Environmental Health Specialist
    Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health – Environmental Health Division
  • Zack Hansen
    Environmental Health Director
    Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health – Environmental Health Division