Heat mitigation: Beyond handing out water in Maricopa County

Melanie Gall, Center for Emergency Management Homeland Security (CEMHS)

"A total of 632 people have died due to heat-related issues from 2006 - 2013. These people have not been considered ones affected due to a ‘hazard.’"

- Melanie Gall, KER fellow 2020 

Background

Heat fatalities are avoidable deaths. But heat kills more residents in Arizona and Maricopa County than any other natural hazard.

In theory, hazard mitigation should be an all-hazards approach, as promoted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Still, heat is de facto not an actively mitigated hazard on any government level, unlike winter weather, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other hazards. This is evidenced by the fact that FEMA has never funded a single, stand-alone heat mitigation project, nor has the agency ever declared a state of emergency or presidential disaster due to heat — not even during the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed more than 700 people.

As a result, the hazard mitigation plan of Maricopa County and many other Arizona counties is limited to handing out water or establishing cooling centers during the summer months.

  • Which cities in Maricopa County are interested and willing to revise, propose, and adopt stand-alone heat mitigation actions in the 2019 plan update of the Maricopa County All-hazards Mitigation Plan?

  • What dedicated, stand-alone heat mitigation actions are appealing to those involved in the Maricopa County plan update?

  • What are the pros and cons of proposed heat mitigation actions according to the STAPLEE (social, technical, administrative, political, legal, economic, and environmental) method?

Methods and findings

Gall observed and participated in monthly planning meetings held by the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management. She also worked with David Hondula to develop a repository of possible heat mitigation actions. Gall then conducted focus group meetings to present, discuss, and brainstorm heat mitigation actions.

Many heat mitigation actions align with traditional mitigation project types commonly associated with other hazards (e.g., building retrofit, green infrastructure projects feasibility studies, etc.).

Partners

Arizona State University

  • David Hondula, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

  • Anne Reichman, Sustainable Cities Network

  • Melissa Guardaro, Knowledge Exchange for Resilience

Maricopa County

  • Rudy Perez, Department of Emergency Management 

  • Braden Kay, Director of Sustainability, City of Tempe

  • Michelle Seitz, Emergency Manager, City of Tempe

  • Mark Hartman, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Phoenix

Impact

The short-term impact of Gall's project is the fact that select jurisdictions in Maricopa County are now eligible to apply for federal funding to mitigate the heat. The long-term impact is that these jurisdictions will have to pave the way for others and probably encounter many obstacles and roadblocks before receiving funding. Currently, there is minimal familiarity with the federal government on assessing value and fund heat mitigation projects.

The inclusion of heat mitigation actions allows select jurisdictions in Maricopa County to apply for federal funds as part of the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant program, as well as post-disaster federal grants. Overall, there is still significant work to be done to increase awareness of heat mitigation actions and the utility of a county hazard mitigation plan to leverage funding to implement local solutions.

Deliverables

Gall's research on the inclusion of new heat mitigation actions will be available in the Maricopa County Hazard Mitigation Plan in early 2021.  Gall will also submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal on FEMA's treatment of heat (as a natural hazard) in January 2021.