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Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

The first step to make Cambridge more prepared and resilient to climate change is to understand how we are vulnerable or resilient in terms of impacts on people, infrastructure, public health, and the economy.  The City of Cambridge is undertaking a climate change vulnerability assessment, which will run until early 2015 and serve as the foundation for a climate change preparedness and resilience plan.

The project is coordinated by an inter-departmental steering committee consisting of the Public Works, Public Health, and Community Development Departments.  A consultant team led by Kleinfelder, a Cambridge based architecture, engineering, and sustainability services firm, is working with City staff to perform the assessment.  A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) composed of community stakeholders is helping guide the assessment and providing critical information.  An Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) is providing feedback on the assessment's technical approach and assumptions.  Public workshops and community presentations are engaging residents, businesses, and organizations.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Public Meeting

A public meeting to present the interim results of the climate change vulnerability assessment was held on March 17 at the MIT Stata Center.  About 130 people attended to hear about the assessment and to discuss the results. The presentation is posted here. The Summary Report about the meeting recaps the presentation, questions and answers, and feedback received during the breakout sessions and from the questionnaire circulated at the meeting.

The next steps for the project are:

  • Issue an interim report based on risks from precipitation-driven flooding and increased temperatures.
  • Complete the storm surge/sea level rise modeling for 2070 and complete the assessment in terms of identifying physical and social vulnerabilities based on a sea level rise and storm surge scenario.
  • Make the data and information from the assessment publicly available.
  • Conduct additional technical analyses before starting the climate change preparedness plan, e.g., modeling flooding from other storm events.
  • Meet with community groups and stakeholders to discuss the vulnerability assessment results in greater depth.
  • Coordinate with stakeholders undertaking their own preparedness efforts.
  • Work on regional coordination and cooperation, such as the Metro Mayors climate resilience initiative.
  • Coordinate the upcoming Citywide Plan with the preparedness plan and the Getting to Net Zero Task Force recommendations.
  • Start the climate change preparedness plan process -- an expected two-year process -- and program early actions.

The City is nearing completion of the vulnerability assessment in Spring 2015.  Work on climate change risks associated with precipitation-drive flooding and heat will be presented at the public meeting on March 17, 2015 along with findings about coastal storm surge risks involving sea level rise up to 2030.  Modeling for coastal storm surge risks up to 2070 is in progress.  The vulnerability assessment will be completed upon receipt of the modeling results.  Notices will be sent to the project email list to notify interested parties of meetings.

The City Manager directed City departments to prepare a climate change vulnerability assessment and preparedness plan based on a recommendation from the City's Climate Protection Action Committee.  The project is proceeding in two stages beginning with the vulnerability assessment followed by the preparedness plan. 

The vulnerability assessment will be largely a technical study of the Cambridge population, infrastructure, public health, and local economy in terms of risks and vulnerabilities to impacts resulting from increased temperatures, more intense storms, and storm surge flooding associated with sea level rise. 

Using the vulnerability assessment as its technical foundation, the City will then develop an preparedness and resilience plan:  a strategy to make Cambridge more prepared and resilient to climate change impacts.  The City is expecting to conduct an extensive public involvement process as part of the plan development.

Project Steering Committee

  • Iram Farooq, Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development
  • Owen O'Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works
  • Kathy Watkins, City Engineer, Public Works Department
  • Sam Lipson, Environmental Health Director, Public Health Department
  • Susanne Rasmussen, Environmental & Transportation Planning Director, Community Development Department
  • John Bolduc, Environmental Planner, Community Development Department

Technical Advisory Committee

  • Richard Amster, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Kathleen Baskin, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
  • Andrew Brennan, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
  • Peter Crawley, Resident
  • Mark DiOrio, Bulfinch Properties
  • Barry Hilts, Cambridge Health Alliance
  • Bryan Koop, Boston Properties
  • Penn Loh, Resident
  • Thomas Lucey, Harvard University
  • Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities
  • Andy Reinach, Alexandria Real Estate Equities
  • Gregory Russ, Cambridge Housing Authority
  • Terrence Smith, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
  • Kevin Walsh, Massachusetts Department of Transportation
  • Richard Zingarelli, Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation

Expert Advisory Panel

  • Bruce Anderson, Boston University
  • Peter Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Stephen Hammer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Henry Jacoby, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Joyce Rosenthal, Harvard University
  • Daniel Schrag, Harvard University
  • John Spengler, Harvard University


  • Kleinfelder (Lead) – Project Methodology, Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Modeling, Integration of Disciplines
  • Paul Kirshen, University of New Hampshire – Vulnerability Assessment, Scenario Development, Modeling
  • Consensus Building Institute – Stakeholder Engagement
  • Catalysis Adaptation Partners – Economic Analysis
  • Pat Kinney, Columbia University – Public Health
  • AMEC – Vulnerability Assessment, Ranking Systems
  • ATMOS Research – Climate Change Projections
  • The Resiliency Place – ICLEI ADAPT Tool
  • MWH - hydrologic modeling
  • VHB - hydrologic modeling
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District - Urban Forest

The City is also asking any organization or individual to complete a short survey to provide input to the vulnerability assessment project.  The survey can be taken online at:


Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis Joins 45 Mayors and County Leaders Nationwide in Pledge to Create More Resilient Cities

National campaign highlights the City of Cambridge’s leadership and commitment in response to growing extreme weather and energy challenges.

City of Cambridge, MA – Mayor Henrietta Davis has joined 45 other mayors and county officials from around the country who have committed to creating more resilient cities, towns and counties in response to our nation’s growing extreme weather and energy challenges. As an Inaugural Signatory of the Resilient Communities for America campaign, Mayor Davis is among the first local elected officials in the nation to showcase her leadership on these key issues testing America’s communities.

The national campaign, which launched today, recognizes that local governments like Cambridge are on the front lines of responding to increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by a changing climate. An unprecedented increase in heat waves, droughts, floods, severe storms and wildfires have devastated communities nationwide over the past two years and cost America $188 billion in damages. Communities are also put at risk by unreliable and costly energy, thanks to volatile global prices and aging infrastructure taxed by extreme weather.

“We cannot ignore the challenges we will face in Cambridge and in so many other regions across the country,” said Mayor Davis. “Because climate change is a global challenge that will significantly affect our community locally, we must take action here in Cambridge to deal with the changing climate and extreme weather that we have already begun to see taking shape. I am committed to helping Cambridge become more resilient and prepared—to keep our community safe and strong, and keep our economy competitive.”

The Resilient Communities for America campaign (www.resilientamerica.org) seeks to champion the work of Mayor Davis and other local elected officials and local governments at the forefront of the emerging national movement to build resilience—and to inspire hundreds more to follow their lead. Local governments can take a wide range of actions to prepare and protect community members, businesses, infrastructure and natural resources, and allow communities to bounce back faster from disruptions and disasters. Every $1 spent on disaster risk reduction can save $4 in recovery and emergency response costs—making resilience efforts a sound investment for our community.

The City of Cambridge has already begun to face significant challenges from a change in weather patterns. In 2010, a storm dropped four inches of rain on Cambridge streets in just one hour – placing a major burden on aging infrastructure and leading to flooded homes and businesses. This event in particular caused negative environmental, economic and social impacts on the community. In the future, it is predicted that Cambridge will see an increase in average precipitation, which will lead to more local flooding. Higher temperatures and longer-lasting heat waves, more intense hurricanes, with resulting increases in wind speeds, precipitation and storm surges are also anticipated. Sea Level Rise is also expected at an additional 1-2 feet by 2050, and 3-6 feet by 2100, significantly increasing the risk of storm surge flooding in Cambridge.

In response to these challenges, the City of Cambridge has already taken a range of cost-effective actions that increase resilience to climate change:

  • In 2012, the City launched a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment to learn how climate change will affect homes, businesses, institutions and people in Cambridge. Over 40 presentations will be given throughout the community to engage residents and businesses in talking about our vulnerabilities as a community.
  • In 2014, the City will turn the information gathered through the Vulnerability Assessment into a Climate Change Preparedness Plan, relying heavily on community input to design an actionable plan.
  • Also in 2013, the City signed the Compact for a Sustainable Community, in partnership with Harvard University and MIT and multiple large businesses. This compact creates a framework for collaborating on both climate change mitigation and resiliency planning.
  • Through the CitySmart and Cambridge Energy Alliance programs, Cambridge is engaging closely with residents and businesses to educate and push for action towards switching modes of transportation from single occupancy vehicles to sustainable modes, taking energy efficiency measures in the home and business, and installing renewable energy sources on local buildings.

In signing the Resilient Communities for America Agreement, Mayor Davis joins 45 other leading mayors and county leaders from across the country, including Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington DC, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA; Mayor John Cook of El Paso, TX; Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, NJ, and Mayor Kristin Jacobs of Broward County, FL.

The campaign Agreement letter they signed lays out three commitments for local elected officials:

  • To urge state and federal leaders to support local resilience initiatives and to take meaningful steps to build resilience and security throughout the nation.
  • To build community resilience through their own self-defined local actions and goals (emphasizing actions that address climate change, energy security, infrastructure renewal and economic recovery).
  • To share their solutions and success stories with other local governments to help accelerate their progress on resilience.

Resilient Communities for American Campaign is being coordinated by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the National League of Cities, the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Wildlife Fund. Learn more at www.resilientamerica.org.

For more information about the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment & Preparedness Plan or to be placed on an email list to receive periodic project updates, contact:

John Bolduc, Environmental Planner