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.


Work on the vulnerability assessment is continuing.  Progress has been slower than expected, primarily due to the complexity of the flood modeling.  The flood modeling includes:

  • Using the City's storm water system model to understand the impact of changes in precipitation and the implications for drainage system backups and riverine flooding.
  • Working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on modeling coastal storm surges associated with sea level rise in Boston Harbor with the Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) model to assess whether the storm surges could overwhelm the Charles River Dam and the Amelia Earhart Dam in 2030 or 2070.
  • Looking at the flooding that might result from the combined effect of sea level rise, coastal storm surges, and greater precipitation.

The City has begun to receive results from the modeling of greater precipitation events.  Quality control/assurance reviews are being performed.  Preliminary results from the storm surge modeling are expected soon and will undergo similar quality assurance review.

Other technical analyses that are being performed include mapping and projecting surface and air temperatures to understand heat vulnerability; assessing the vulnerability of our urban forest to flooding and increased temperatures; mapping of demographic factors, infrastructure, and community assets; and modeling economic impacts from flooding and business disruption.

Informed by the technical analyses and using scenarios that fall within the range of projected climate change, the City will rate and rank the vulnerabilities of residents, buildings, infrastructure, important community assets, and key systems.

The current estimate for completing the vulnerability assessment is January 2015.  Then the City intends to start the climate change preparedness and resilience plan during the first part of 2015.  [9/25/14]

The City is aiming to complete the climate change vulnerability assessment in January 2015.  No meetings are currently scheduled.  Before the completion of the assessment, the Technical Advisory Committee will be convened and a public meeting will be held to present results from the assessment.  Notices will be sent to the project email list to notify interested parties of these 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.

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