Extreme temperatures, precipitation, and storms along with rising sea levels are major climate risk factors with which many Boston associations will be forced to contend in the upcoming years and decades. Associations must learn to assess the risks of climate change, and the extreme weather events that are a byproduct, and develop strategies to prepare their properties accordingly. The strategies for addressing these challenges can be segmented into three parts: neighborhood planning, climate-ready and resilient buildings, and emergency preparedness.
Extreme temperatures, precipitation, and storms along with rising sea levels are major climate risk factors with which many Boston associations will be forced to contend in the upcoming years and decades.
The climate risks faced are in many ways too large for one association or property owner to face alone; they demand community solutions. In January, the City of Boston launched Climate Ready Downtown and North End and held its first community meeting on March 12th to further study the impact on the area and discuss protective measures. The community planning process is an opportunity to provide feedback about potential solutions and priorities, including elevated pathways, adaptive buildings, stormwater gardens, stepped edges, flood walls, breakwaters and coastal marsh. The next public session will likely be in May or June. At risk associations and property owners should participate in neighborhood planning by attending meetings, providing input on proposed solutions (which can be done by responding to online surveys or e-mail, if you cannot attend a meeting in person), or becoming a neighborhood leader. No one knows the neighborhood better than the people who live there and how one proposal versus another could impact day-to-day living. The City anticipates that, by the end of the year, it will release a final report with draft designs and an implementation plan for the City and its partners in downtown Boston.
Climate Ready Boston is not limited to downtown. The City expects to kick off Climate Ready Dorchester this summer and there is ongoing planning about the future of Moakley Park in South Boston. There are also planning documents available for Climate Ready Charlestown and East Boston.
Climate-Ready and Resilient Buildings.
Associations can also begin to incorporate climate-ready strategies into their building maintenance plans. There are some basic techniques that associations can explore to see if they make sense for their own properties.
If there is a planned or upcoming renovation, associations can inquire about flood-resistant materials and additional efficiency measures to maintain a high-performance building envelope. For associations comprised of older buildings it may make sense to increase the size of downspouts and gutters to handle increased precipitation loads. Any size building can explore whether the roofing materials adequately support cooling, harness as much energy as possible for the building and support water diversion in the event of extreme heat or storms.
Associations should also research flood-proofing and flood resiliency techniques if they are in areas particularly flood-prone or at flood-risk. Wet flood proofing prepares existing buildings to allow floodwaters to pass through them -- flood vents are an example. Elevating critical mechanical equipment can be a component wet flood-proofing. Dry flood proofing makes existing buildings weather tight so flood waters cannot pass through. This can be done through wall reinforcements and sealants. Buildings may also benefit from backwater preventers, which block wastewater from flowing into the home in the event rising water causes sewers to overflow. Deploying flood barriers or installing retractable flood gates, while more common for large commercial spaces, may nonetheless be appropriate depending on a buildings’ location.
If there are any questions about whether climate-ready or flood-proofing work at your association will constitute a repair or improvement, ask an attorney. While the selection of climate resilient materials or methods for a project will not likely change the nature of the underlying project (repair vs. improvement), the installation of a new system (i.e. a new green/living roof, solar panels, etc.) may constitute an improvement requiring unit owner vote or other compliance with expenditure controls in your governing documents.
One initiative for climate-readiness identified by the City of Boston is to establish a program and resources for property owners to audit their own climate-readiness. MTM will monitor this initiative’s progress and any useful output or tools for associations that are developed.
Extreme Weather Preparedness.
Finally, there are strategies and concrete steps that an association can take to prepare for discrete extreme weather events. Here is a basic action list to get you started:
▪ Maintain up-to-date owner contact information.
▪ Streamline the distribution of emergency information and receipt of damage reports.
▪ Create a protocol for evacuation and sheltering in place.
▪ Send seasonally appropriate unit maintenance reminders.
▪ Verify the association has adequate insurance coverage.
▪ Recommend or require unit owners to maintain appropriate insurance.
▪ Keep on-site physical records in a safe location and back-up electronically.
▪ Evaluate and identify alternate security and power needs and sources.
▪ Identify special population risks (elderly or infirm/accessibility needs/limited English proficiency/households with service animals) and services that you can access in the event of an emergency.
▪ Stock emergency supplies.
▪ Train staff on emergency preparedness, management and response.
▪ Know external and government agencies that may be able to assist before, during or after an extreme weather event: Boston Fire, Boston Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA); the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); and the Red Cross.
If an extreme weather event is approaching do not forget to:
▪ Remove or secure common area patio furniture, garbage cans, awnings and other loose ground items that could be damaged or become a projectile.
▪ Check that generators, alarms and other critical services are operable.
▪ Confirm that outdoor equipment such as air conditioners, antennas, signs and other mounted equipment are secure.
▪ Inspect and clear downspouts, drains and gutters.