Westwood Revises its Hazard Mitigation Plan, Identifies Climate Change as Threat


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

As residents of Buffalo, New York currently grapple with a deadly snowstorm, with a four-day total accumulation measuring 51.4 inches on Tuesday morning, December 27th that some are attributing to climate change, the Town of Westwood moves ahead with updating its Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) in which almost all identified hazards are tied to climate change.

Westwood’s Select Board approved an updated Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) on December 19, 2022, as presented by the town’s consultant, Emily Slotnik of BETA Group. Ms. Slotnik described the plan, highlighting its relationship to climate change and Westwood's need for stormwater management.

Hazards of concern that were identified were all, but for one, categorized as climate-change related, “because we believe that climate change really is the foremost threat to towns in Massachusetts and across the United States,” stated Ms. Slotnik. Hazards of concern related to climate change that were identified are: 

  • Precipitation related hazards of flooding and dam failure; 
  • Rising temperature related hazards of drought, brush fire, extreme temperatures, and invasive species; 
  • Extreme weather related hazards of severe storm, tornado, hurricane, Nor’easter, winter storm; and
  • Earthquake, the only hazard identified that is not tied to climate-change.

Hazard mitigation, as defined by Ms. Slotnik with reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is “[a]ny sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards.” 

The broad goal of the HMP is to reduce risks of damage from natural hazards over time. Having a HMP in place is important in securing mitigation grants, including climate change grants, noted Ms. Slotnik.

Mitigation goals of the 2022 updated plan remain largely the same as the predecessor 2011 plan’s goals, noted Ms. Slotnik. They include:

  • Preventing and reducing loss of life, injury, public health impacts and property damage from natural hazards; 
  • Obtaining funding to mitigate impact of flooding events; 
  • Integrating hazard mitigation planning across the town’s departments, committees and boards;
  • Public-private partnerships to implement the HMP; 
  • Ensuring regional, state and federal cooperation; 
  • Ensuring that future development and redevelopment meets mitigation standards; and 
  • Using available state and local resources to educate town staff and the public about hazard mitigation.

Eighteen mitigation actions were formulated, ten of which were carried over from existing town policies or practices within certain departments or within the 2011 plan. Some of those strategies are planning and prevention, natural resource protection, and public education and awareness. 

Conant Road was noted to be an area of repeat flooding that is addressed in the high priority mitigation strategy of public education that builds community support for investing in stormwater infrastructure. 

Medium priority strategies related to flooding include updating local floodplain management regulations and completing the town’s stormwater drainage master plan. Country Lane was also noted in public comment as an area of concern for flooding.

The HMP has already been submitted to MEMA and FEMA for review. BETA anticipates conditional approval before or by early next year.

Actions under the HMP are anticipated to be reviewed at a consistent time on an annual basis with the Department of Public Works.

To develop the plan, BETA Group worked with a steering committee made of members of town staff from across different town departments. They identified hazards in Westwood, assessed strengths and capabilities in Westwood for current mitigation, conducted a vulnerability analysis, and took an inventory of “critical facilities” in town that are critical for town operation.

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