Extreme heat and how communities can cope with it is the focus of one Hoosier program that is the first of its kind in the state.
Beat the Heat, a two-year program launched by Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute and funded by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, is currently implemented in Richmond and Clarksville.
Both communities have developed heat management plans that identify strategies and actions to cope with the effects of hot weather. The plans are the result of public surveys, interviews, focus groups and temperature data collection led by the communities’ heat relief coordinators.
“Cities and towns across the state need to plan for extreme heat, and it’s important for communities to know how to respond to extreme heat events,” Dana Habeeb, an assistant professor at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering and the program’s principal investigator told Indiana Environmental Reporter. “This program will make communities more resilient and allow them to learn their vulnerabilities and understand their strengths.”
Richmond’s program has so far been successful, but it is not yet completed, said Lucy Mellen, who serves as the city’s heat relief coordinator.
“We have mapped the hottest and coolest parts of the city, engaged with residents through surveys, focus groups, and interviews about their experiences and concerns around extreme heat, created a draft of the city’s first-ever heat management plan, and have only tapped the surface on the implementation phase,” Mellen said. “The things implemented this summer were actions capable of being implemented in the short term. However, this upcoming fall and spring we will be diving into longer-term project planning and identifying how to sustain the things we implemented this summer.”
Bronte Murrell, heat relief coordinator in Clarksville, said the program has allowed for meeting the needs of her town.
“Larger cities like Miami, New York and Phoenix have looked at extreme heat, but these plans aren’t tailored for smaller Midwestern communities. This is an opportunity to think about the needs of Clarksville and how to meet the needs of a smaller community,” Murrell said.
Clarksville and Richmond have both hosted Beat the Heat weeks to highlight the importance of heat preparedness. Other priorities have included signing residents up for local heat alerts and distributing heat relief kits to those in need.
“A huge takeaway from this program is that we need to start talking about heat-related issues and preparing for them,” Murrell said.
Extreme heat raises the likelihood of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can lead to increased hospitalizations and medical costs. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable. Extreme heat also reduces crop yields, counteracting the benefits of a longer growing season.
According to the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment, the number of extreme heat events will continue to rise significantly in all areas of the state due to climate change. In Clarksville, extreme heat events are projected to double by 2050. In Richmond, those numbers are projected to triple.
“Other Hoosier communities can learn that now is the best time to act, regarding not only climate change, but more specifically extreme heat. As projections show, extreme heat is only going to get worse. Additionally, educating and engaging with the community early on about topics such as extreme heat will help keep more people safe in the long term,” Mellen said.
To help start conversations about hot weather throughout the state, the Beat the Heat team created a heat-preparedness toolbox that can be used by anyone to increase awareness about the public health impacts of extreme heat.