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Report Assesses Cambridge’s Climate Change Vulnerability

By 2030, Cambridge could experience triple the number of days each year with temperatures above 90 degrees because of the effects from climate change, according to a recent city report.

The report, dubbed the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, found that several pieces of Cambridge’s key infrastructure, including transit, emergency services, and telecommunications, are at risk because of increasing heat.

Cambridge City Hall

Subway and commuter rail lines in particular are vulnerable, according to the report, which notes that exposure to extreme heat is likely to damage rails and supporting electrical equipment. Likewise, many Cambridge fire stations currently lack air conditioning to keep occupants and heat-sensitive equipment cool during heat waves.

The report estimates that a city-wide disaster, such as a flood causing a power failure, has the potential to cause $43 million in economic losses per day.

Officials discussed the first part of the two-part assessment, released in November, at a public meeting at the Cambridge Public Library two weeks ago.

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“We need to be talking regionally with federal and state authorities who can help us prevent that type of catastrophe,” Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said.

The second part of the assessment, slated for release in February, will address other climate concerns, including the risk of flooding from rising sea levels and storm surges.

The assessment will serve as a guide to Cambridge’s upcoming Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan, an initiative designed to address the city’s vulnerabilities, especially with regards to increasing temperatures and precipitation-driven flooding.

According to John Bolduc, an environmental planner for the Cambridge Community Development Department, city officials will start on the plan in January and expect it to take about two years to develop.

According to Bolduc, the project will entail risk-reduction strategies on several scales: improving buildings, planning neighborhoods, and some larger city-wide approaches. The city will conduct the project in conjunction with Cambridge’s Citywide Plan, which focuses on promoting long-term sustainability and living conditions in the city.

“There’s a lot of things you have to do all at one time or in combination to be effective,” Bolduc said. “The effort will be trying to come up with all of those things and put it together in a meaningful way.”

The project will likely begin in the Alewife area, which officials have identified as a higher-risk flooding area.

“There's clearly already a lot of momentum behind this work,” Mazen said. “The next steps are to continue meeting and convening, continue talking about the technical infrastructure areas of greatest needs, and begin formulating a policy solution as a part of the master planning process.”

—Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at brianyu@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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