Boston is one of the city's at highest risk of flooding at its hospitals in the event of a major storm, based on sea level rise predictions in the next century, according to a new study from Harvard.
According to the study, which focused on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, “sea level rise expected in this century due to the effects of climate change increases the odds of hospital flooding by 22%.”
Modeling used in the study found that with the sea level rise anticipated this century, the Boston metro area has over a 90% increase in the number of hospital beds at risk in the event of a Category 2 storm -- a storm much less powerful than Hurricane Ian. Other areas with that kind of increased risk include Baton Rouge, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi and Philadelphia.
"All hospitals need to take a look at where their flooding vulnerabilities may be, and many have. I think the real challenge will be the coordination of care around these disasters, meaning we need to understand where beds are, where staff is, where people and resources may be able to get to if roads are flooded. And that's going to require more coordination than I think we've had today," said Dr. Aaron Bernstein, senior author of the report.
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Berstein added that it will be key for people with chronic medical conditions to prepare in the event of such a storm, to have medications on hand or a backup location to visit if flooding makes the hospital or access to the hospital impossible.
"I think for those individuals who need those kinds of care, whether it's dialysis or infusions of medicines that only happen in hospitals, I think it's worth a conversation with your provider to ask if this facility isn't available, where else can I go and maybe start to lay some groundwork if there's another facility that can deliver that care that's within the same network," he said.
Here are the 10 metro areas most threatened by a Category 2 storm:
The 10 metro areas where a Category 2 hurricane threatens access to hospital care most are:
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
- Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
- New Orleans-Metairie, LA
- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
- North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
- Jacksonville, FL
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
The Boston area has already seen what flooding can do in a hospital setting - in June 2020 Norwood Hospital was inundated by floodwaters when more than four inches of rain fell in 90 minutes. Everyone was evacuated safely, but the hospital remains closed despite efforts to get the emergency department back up and running as quickly as possible.
The likelihood of a Category 2 storm in the Boston area is measured by something called return period. There is about a 30-year return period for such a storm in the immediate Boston area, according to Meteorologist Pete Bouchard, while the risk is higher on the Cape, which has a 16-year return period.