“Preparing for the Rising Tide” by Ellen Douglas, Paul Kirshen et al.


llen Douglas, University of Massachusetts BostonFollow
Paul Kirshen
Vivian Li
Chris Watson
Julie Wormser

Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



On October 29, 2012, one of the largest Atlantic basin storms in recorded history hit the East Coast. Although Superstorm Sandy centered around New Jersey and New York when it made landfall, the massive storm system spanned 1,000 miles north to south, over three times the size of a typical hurricane.

Luckily for Boston, Sandy’s storm surge hit the city near low tide, causing relatively minor coastal flooding. Had the storm hit 5½ hours earlier, 6.6 percent of the city could have been flooded, with floodwaters reaching City Hall.

Events such as Superstorm Sandy highlight the growing relevance of climate change and draw attention to the importance of taking steps today to be prepared for the likely events of tomorrow. Preparing for the Rising Tide provides policy makers, planners and property owners with site-specific examples of how to assess vulnerability and increase resilience to coastal flooding over time.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes.” Vulnerability assessments focus action on highly sensitive populations, locations and infrastructure.

Preparedness plans need to be robust enough to handle any future condition, and/or flexible enough change over time to meet needs as they arise. Ideally they include “no-regret” and co-benefit” solutions that extend beyond flood control goals. Cost-effective preparedness plans will result in both “here and now” and “prepare and monitor” actions based on threshold triggers such as sea level rise.

Previous reports have described a range of large-scale adaptation strategies. This report takes those recommendations and applies them to specific properties in Boston. Some cities such as Seattle, WA and Charleston, SC are developing “floodable zones” that preserve the city’s access to its waterfront while minimizing damage when periodic flooding occurs. This concept of “living with water” is an option to consider in Boston as well.


The full report, including maps, press releases, and related media, are available from the Boston Harbor Association: http://www.tbha.org/preparing-rising-tide-report.

Recommended Citation

Douglas, Ellen; Kirshen, Paul; Li, Vivian; Watson, Chris; and Wormser, Julie, “Preparing for the Rising Tide” (2013). Environmental, Earth, and Ocean Sciences Faculty Publication Series. 3.

Additional Files
preparing_for_the_rising_tide_executive_summary_final.pdf (805 kB)
Executive Summary: Preparing for the Rising Tide


Boston Harbor Association

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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