The Role of Cooling Centers in Climate Adaptation: Observations from the Phoenix Heat Relief Network Evaluation Project

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 11:15 AM
221A-C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
David M. Hondula, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ; and A. Asburry, D. Bentz, V. Berisha, N. Boryczka, J. Eneboe, K. Goodin, E. W. Johnston, E. Kuras, S. Lewis, M. Luc, M. McCullough, A. Mohamed, M. C. Roach, B. Salas, K. Starr, and J. Uebelherr

Extreme heat is a significant public health concern in municipalities across the globe and especially so in the Phoenix metropolitan area, one of the hottest large cities in the United States. Access to cool environments, even for a few hours, can provide necessary protective relief that may reduce heat-related death and illness. Publicly-available cooling centers have the potential to especially aid those who cannot afford to cool their homes or do not have cool spaces in which to seek refuge. The Phoenix Heat Relief Network was founded in 2005 by the City of Phoenix and Maricopa Association of Governments in response to excessive heat-related mortality among the homeless population. Each summer, the network recruits local public and private facilities to serve as cooling centers and water donation and distribution sites to combat public health concerns related to heat. To date, however, there is minimal knowledge or data available to understand the role of the network as an adaptation strategy for coping with extreme weather.

In summer 2014, the Maricopa County Department of Health, Arizona Department of Health Services, and Arizona State University implemented an evaluation of the Phoenix Heat Relief Network cooling centers to document the sites' utilization, services offered, and the public and private resources needed to operate the network. Initial results from three separate instruments are discussed: in-depth interviews with managers of cooling center facilities, paper surveys of cooling center visitors, and observational data collected by members of the evaluation team. Within the Phoenix Heat Relief Network we found a wide range of experiences with respect to facility access and resources, utilization, target populations, and communication. Information collected from the evaluation campaign identifies best practices for the establishment of heat relief networks in other counties and opportunities for future improvements in Maricopa County, highlights effective communication strategies for dissemination of intervention activities, and informs the strategic climate and health adaptation plan for the state of Arizona.