Falmouth is one of the earliest coastal settlements in Massachusetts. The town is located on the southwestern end of Cape Cod and has a strong year-round population of approximately 33,000, which increases to more than 100,000 in the summer. Historic villages and harbors, beaches, barrier beaches, coastal ponds, marshes, and bluffs are found along an estimated 117 miles of shoreline. The south-facing shoreline on Vineyard Sound and west-facing shoreline along Buzzards Bay make Falmouth vulnerable to extreme storm surges during hurricanes.
The goal of the StormSmart Coasts pilot project was to develop a multi-hazard mitigation plan for Falmouth that would integrate existing planning efforts to minimize the impacts of natural disasters, including the effects of sea level rise on people, property, infrastructure, and natural, cultural, and economic resources within the community.
Approach and Results
The Natural Resources, Planning, and Fire Departments participated in the StormSmart Coasts pilot project. The StormSmart Coasts team sought input from other town boards and departments on issues relating to floods, hurricanes, winter storms, wildfires, and other natural hazards. When finalized, the plan will describe Falmouth's risks from natural hazards, including flooding and sea level rise, connect hazard mitigation planning with existing community planning efforts, and provide a prioritized selection of hazard mitigation actions.
The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) developed a survey to gain public input on vulnerabilities and build support for actions that will reduce Falmouth's vulnerability to natural hazards when implemented by local departments and other organizations. The survey results indicate that residents are concerned about future natural disasters in Falmouth, especially those with high winds and coastal flooding, and would like the town to plan for future development, increase public education and awareness of risk in the community, and improve natural resource protection as well as emergency services. These recommendations can be achieved largely through ongoing planning and implementation activities and operations. For example, hazard mitigation strategies, such as improving drainage, flood proofing structures, and relocating infrastructure, can be strengthened in Falmouth's local comprehensive planning process and capital improvement planning. Greater emphasis could also be placed on risk reduction when evaluating parcels for land acquisition by the town.
The final draft of the plan will be submitted by the town to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for review before formal adoption of the plan by the Board of Selectmen, which will demonstrate the town's commitment to fulfilling the hazard mitigation goals and objectives outlined in the plan. By providing a framework for addressing the natural hazards that are exacerbated by sea level rise, the plan can be used as a model for other coastal communities that are focused on addressing climate change issues.