Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness

The North Suffolk communities of Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop have conducted a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) planning process, supported by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. As part of this process, local stakeholders identify local climate hazards in order to better understand their strengths, and to develop priority actions. Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop identified the hazards below:

  • Extreme Heat - Average annual temperatures have already risen in the North Suffolk region, and are expected to continue to rise over the course of this century. During the summer, we are experiencing more days over 90 degrees, more heat waves (consecutive hot days), and less cooling at night. Some of the specific risks from extreme heat include: 
    • Greater risk of heat-related illness, especially for elderly residents, young children, people with chronic health conditions, people who work outdoors, and people without access to cooling at home.
    • Poor air quality, which is exacerbated by heat.
    • Power outages caused by increased energy use from air conditioning.
    • Social isolation for seniors and others who are unable to leave their homes during a heat wave.
    • Even higher temperatures in areas with fewer trees, less green space, and more buildings and pavement.  This is called the urban heat island effect.
    • Warmer weather in all seasons impacts the ability of native plants and animals to thrive here, and creates new challenges for our communities, such as larger tick populations following warmer winters and disruptions to typical heating and cooling schedules in public buildings.
  • Severe Storms - As the climate changes, precipitation patterns will change, with rain and snow coming in more intense bursts, interspersed with periods of drought. As a result, even if the overall amount of precipitation each year increases only slightly, very severe storms, which can drop many inches of rain or snow in a period of hours or days, are expected to become more likely over time. Some of the specific risks from severe storms include:
  • Localized inland flooding: our stormwater infrastructure, which was built to accommodate less intense rainfall, can become overwhelmed, leading to flooded streets, sidewalks, parks, yards, and basements.
  • Contamination of rivers, creeks, and wetlands occurs especially when rain is very heavy, since the water can’t all be absorbed into the ground and flows downstream as runoff. Stormwater runoff brings contaminants such as oil, fertilizer, pet waste, and trash into local water bodies, affecting the health of aquatic animals and plants, as well as people who come into contact with the water.
  • Wave action and storm surge have always been a hazard for coastal communities, but when they are coupled with sea level rise, the areas susceptible to flooding and flood depths both increase.
  • Wind that accompanies strong storms creates its own risks to people, property, and infrastructure.
  • Unpredictable precipitation patterns will also lead to increased risk of drought and fire during dry times.
  • Sea Level Rise - As temperatures increase globally, melting ice is causing the sea level to rise. Depending on our global ability to curb carbon emissions, sea levels in the North Suffolk area could increase by anywhere from three to ten feet by 2100. Our cities, built for historical sea levels, must adjust to a new normal of higher high tides every day. Areas that did not previously flood, or only flooded occasionally, may see more regular flooding. Some of the specific risks from sea level rise include:
  • Increased flood risk for low-lying and coastal critical facilities and neighborhoods. In some cases, existing buildings or infrastructure may become unusable because they are flooded so frequently.
  • Flooded roads, bridges, and public transit infrastructure, cutting off access to certain areas.
  • Shoreline erosion, threatening existing structures, public spaces, and natural ecosystems.
  • Worsened impact from storms and high tides in existing flood areas, since these events will increase already-high sea levels. 
In all communities, some people are more vulnerable to climate hazards than others. In some cases, this is because of physiological differences: for example, people with asthma or heart disease are more at risk of health problems from extreme heat. In other cases, some may be more vulnerable than others due to lifestyle differences: for example, someone who does manual labor outdoors in the summer is more at risk from extreme heat than someone who works in an air-conditioned office. And in still other cases, this difference is due to access to resources: for example, someone who can not afford an air conditioning unit or high electricity bills for summer cooling is at greater risk from heat than someone who has air conditioning in their home.

As Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop adapt to climate hazards, all three communities will consider social vulnerabilities like these, to ensure that all residents, regardless of personal circumstances, can remain safe and healthy as our cities confront these challenges.

See recent climate change vulnerability assessments, including a more in-depth discussion of hazards and vulnerabilities, from the three North Suffolk communities:

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness report, 2018
Designing Coastal Community Infrastructure for Climate Change, 2017

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness report, 2019

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness report, 2018
Resilient Winthrop: Designing Coastal Community Instructure for Climate Change, 2017