Corn under water stress

New Network funded project helps communities plan for one the costliest natural disasters – drought

After a spring of seemingly endless rain, drought has hit parts of the Midwest for the first time this year. According to the US Drought Monitor, moderate drought is present in parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Abnormal dryness is also present across these states, as well as portions of Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Map of drought conditions in the Midwest

Map of drought conditions across the Midwest by the US Drought Monitor.

As one of the costliest natural disasters in the United States, being prepared to respond to drought is important for farmers and communities alike. A newly funded Network project is creating an interactive Extension guidebook to help communities plan for drought using scenario-based exercises.

Drought planning can help communities leverage their unique resources and increase sustainability by building resilience to drought. By taking action to prepare for drought, communities can help ensure that critical water needs are met during dry spells, minimize the impacts of a diminished water supply, and increase the efficiency of response actions.

Planning for drought can be challenging for rural communities due to lack of resources, lack of public engagement, and potential conflicts among water user groups. The use of drought scenario-based exercises is an innovative way to engage community leaders, decision-makers, government staff, and a diverse group of stakeholders, including those that don’t usually participate in the decision-making process. They are able to take part in collaborative discussions of planning and policy-oriented issues.

Scenario-based exercises can take many forms, such as workshops, games, or tabletop exercises that encourage discussion. They can also be used to hold more detailed operation-based exercises. Being prepared for drought is important for communities as it is expensive, affects everyone, and has a complex planning process. Deciding which type of scenario is best for the community depends on the resources and time available.

This project is working closely with the Network’s climate team, the North Central Climate Collaborative, to translate existing research on how drought scenario-based exercises have been used to help communities better prepare for drought into an interactive Extension guidebook that will  help educators and others working in community development educate communities about drought and the importance of planning; illustrate the use of scenario exercises as an innovative way to engage community members in the planning process; provide guidance for selecting appropriate scenario exercises to help start the planning process; and explore case studies based on the experiences of other communities and organizations.

Project co-director, Deborah Bathke of the National Drought Mitigation Center, spoke about the project and the use of scenario-based exercises in the recent addition of The Current Webinar Series.  In the webinar, Bathke discussed the team’s plan to host a one-day workshop to help test the draft guidebook and get key input from stakeholders. Extension educators, outreach professionals and community development professionals are invited to participate in the workshop and provide their insight into developing this interactive guidebook. If interested, contact Deb at


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