Healey-Driscoll Administration Releases ResilientMass, 5-Year Update to the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Program

In October 2023, the Healey-Driscoll Administration launched ResilientMass, a re-brand and 5-year update to the Massachusetts State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP). Initially released in 2018, the SHMCAP made Massachusetts one of the first states to combine hazard mitigation and emergency management planning with climate adaptation planning. In the 2023 ResilientMass Plan (Plan), the Commonwealth seeks to increase its ability to address natural and other hazards in partnership with local, regional, and community-based partners. A Better City has been actively engaged in providing comments to the 2022 Massachusetts Climate Change Assessment, which largely informed the 2023 Plan, and provided additional comments in spring 2023 to help inform the Plan’s final recommendations. In addition to its recommendations for climate and hazard mitigation, the Plan has 6 overarching goals: 1) collaboration, communications, funding, and engagement; 2) science-based and informed decision-making; 3) resilient state assets and services; 4) implementation of adaptation actions for communities and ecosystems; 5) climate mitigation and decarbonization; and 6) resilient and equitable infrastructure, ecosystems, and communities.

ResilientMass Key Takeaways

The Plan organizes Massachusetts’ most urgent priority impacts across 5 sectors: human, infrastructure, natural environment, governance, and economy. Within the Plan’s risk assessment findings, the key climate risks that Massachusetts is focusing on include: coastal erosion, coastal flooding and sea level rise, extreme storms, flooding from precipitation, high heat, invasive species, changes in groundwater, and wildfires. Of the most severe impacts, the Plan emphasizes:

  • 1) Rising temperatures, with 23-29 high heat days per year expected by 2050 (annual projected temperature increases of 5.9-7.9 degrees F).
  • 2) Changes in precipitation, with 12-42% more winter precipitation by 2070 and annual flood damages to increase by $9.3M come 2030.
  • 3) Coastal flooding, with a potential 2.5 feet increase of sea level rise by 2050 from 2008 levels and an anticipated 550% increase in coastal flood damage by 2070 (around $52M in damages).
  • 4) Severe weather, comprised of strong winds, tornadoes, extreme precipitation, and drought, with estimates of extreme precipitation amounts from severe storms increasing 55% since 1958.

A Better City was grateful to see many of our comments reflected in the final Plan, including the need to elevate extreme heat as an urgent threat, with the health impacts of extreme heat on communities, infrastructure, and a reduced ability to work (and to commute to work) considered as both urgent and increasing threats to the Commonwealth. The Plan estimates that heat is already hurting our transportation systems and regional economy, increasing our transportation infrastructure costs by over $140M by the end of the century. Annual repair costs from increased temperatures in Massachusetts (due to the buckling and melting of transportation infrastructure) are projected to increase by $6M by 2050, and $35M/year by 2100. For the human impacts of extreme heat, the Plan estimates that the Commonwealth can attribute 19 annual premature deaths to extreme temperatures, with an additional possible 400 annual premature deaths by the end of the century (it is important to note that many estimates of impacts of heat on human health are undercounted due to lack of sufficient heat stress healthcare data). Looking ahead, the Plan recommends: developing and implementing a Heat Flag warning system in alignment with NOAA’s Heat Advisory Criteria for New England; identifying opportunities to improve cooling standards in buildings; assessing heat resilience of critical infrastructure and state assets; identifying high-priority energy resilience projects to help protect against brownouts and blackouts during heat emergencies; leveraging Department of Conservation and Recreation parks to improve cooling and shade opportunities, emphasizing environmental justice communities; and improving tree canopy coverage and tree equity in environmental justice communities through the expansion of the Greening the Gateway Cities program.

To help bolster the Commonwealth’s data analysis and use of the best-available climate data, the Plan also launched a new Office of Climate Science to oversee the standardized use of climate science across departments and Secretariats. Alongside the Office of Climate Science, the Plan recommends convening a climate resilience stakeholder working group, or Resilient Massachusetts Action Team subgroup, within the next 5 years to increase stakeholder engagement and partnership in resilience planning, funding, and implementation. To help encourage resilient design standards in the built environment, the Plan also recommends incorporating resilient design standards into the state building code, as well as targeting Chapter 91 regulatory upgrades to improve resiliency of public tidelands and waterways. As ABC members and staff continue to affirm, any upgrades to Chapter 91 resiliency considerations will need to be flexible enough to enable innovative resilient infrastructure solutions, some of which may extend into the water. The Plan also suggests establishing a mechanism for tracking resilience progress over time, which should help to move Massachusetts from planning to implementation of resilience projects. To help promote resiliency of critical infrastructure in the transportation system, the Plan also encourages the MBTA to consider the impact of extreme storms, to update MBTA emergency response plans for real-time storm response, to encourage climate resilient design standards in all MBTA new construction and retrofits (including designing for extreme heat), and launching a statewide emergency management training needs assessment to ensure emergency preparedness of all state public safety officials.

A Better City also encouraged the State to consider disproportionate impacts of climate threats on environmental justice, low-income, and other frontline communities. In the example of extreme heat, we were grateful to see priority populations like unhoused folks, outdoor workers, the elderly, and children referenced as facing disproportionate threats from extreme temperatures. The Plan also mentions how each climate threat may impact frontline communities disproportionately and makes the case for why priority neighborhoods must be central to our resilience investments. Finally, the Plan also recommends launching a “one stop shop” funding portal for all climate resilience state grant programs, as well as the development of a Massachusetts-specific healthcare training module to educate healthcare providers and patients about the disproportionate impacts of climate hazards on vulnerable and environmental justice communities.

Next Steps

ResilientMass is intended to be a living document, or evolving Plan, which will be evaluated quarterly by the Resilient Massachusetts Action Team to track progress. Its next 5-year update will be in 2028. For detailed notes and more information on ResilientMass, please contact Isabella Gambill.

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