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5 Great Public Health Resources for Dealing With Extreme Heat
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By Rachel Licker
As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.
While I was pregnant, my neighborhood lost power for a few days during an excruciating heat wave as a result of a power surge. The heat index reached 108°F and to keep safe, I spent time in cooled buildings and ran an extension cord from a neighbor with electricity through my mail slot to power a fan.
In May, I had to buy a fan for my baby's stroller when the heat index neared 100°F. And I've had to spend many days indoors as, so far, 21 days this year have been at least 90°F in the District of Columbia.
So where does a parent — or an outdoor worker, a student, a retiree, or any U.S. resident for that matter — turn to figure out how to keep safe in the face of extreme heat?
These are five resources that can help you and your loved ones stay safe during an extreme heat event. There are others available, some of which you can find by way of these resources. You can also help keep others in your community safe, for example by checking in on elderly neighbors or other people you know who are particularly vulnerable to heat.
- Is there an active heat alert? An important step in staying safe is to know what conditions are like — and are forecast to be like — outside. All U.S. residents can turn to weather.gov — the National Weather Service's homepage — to find out whether there are any active heat alerts. The National Weather Service maintains a list of phone apps, websites and other sources of weather alerts here. Local weather forecasters will also provide this information and it is important to follow their advice — heat is currently one of the top weather-related causes of death in the U.S., and there is a lot that people can do to prevent heat-related illness.
- Learn the signs of heat-related illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains this helpful guide to heat-related illness signs and symptoms, and what to do if you exhibit them.
- What to do to stay safe. The Heat Safety Tips and Resources website from the National Weather Service is chock-full of resources on how to stay safe during an extreme heat event. There is information specific to particular segments of the U.S. population, including parents, outdoor workers, Spanish speakers and pet owners. Similarly, the CDC also maintains this helpful website that has information for many other groups, including older adults, low-income households, those with diabetes and athletes. It is important to know about the unique vulnerability of yourself and any dependents you might have.
- Find your closest cooling center and other local resources — call 211. Many cities and communities have cooling centers in places such as libraries, town government buildings, senior centers or shopping centers that residents can visit for respite from the heat. The federal government set up 211 as a line that people can call to get connected with expert help. Some states and communities, including New York, have this information online. Calling one's town government, including a police station, can also help track down this information.
- What's your plan? It is important to have a plan in place on how you and any dependents will stay safe should a heat wave hit. Ready.gov provides suggestions on how to prepare.
Last but not least, there are measures that need to be taken now by our federal and state governments, as well as our communities, to reduce the threat of extreme heat in the future.
As our most recent report, Killer Heat, shows, this threat is projected to worsen dramatically in the next few decades for nearly all U.S. residents if we do not act on global warming. These measures need to include efforts to both reduce heat-trapping emissions to limit the frequency and severity of extreme heat and build resilience to heat so that when an extreme heat event hits, communities are prepared.
While we can't prevent some increases in extreme heat, we can ensure that future generations will, at the very least, have the tools necessary to cope and the ability to stay safe.
Rachel Licker is a senior climate scientist with the Climate & Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
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If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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