Cooling center location optimization for urban heat mitigation 

“Hurricanes and floods leave evidence of destruction for all to see. Heat is an invisible threat with real economic consequences.”

- Melissa Guardaro, KER Researcher


Last year, the Heat Relief Network promoted by Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) offered 106 cooling center locations for residents to get indoor, air-conditioned relief and hydration during the hottest summer months. The extraordinarily high minimum temperatures and early start to the heat season made it one of the most dangerous years for heat related morbidity and mortality, despite a moratorium on evictions and utility disconnections. To make matters worse, due to covid-19 closures, lack of volunteers, and pandemic restrictions, only 19 cooling centers were open.

Research question

  • How do you provide thermal comfort, especially during a pandemic?


  • ASU: Dave Hondula, Chuck Redman, Anne Reichman
  • National Weather Service
  • Cities of Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Avondale, Scottsdale, Chandler
  • Public Health Departments: AZ State, Maricopa, Pinal
  • Non for Profits: AZ Faith Network, 211 Crisis Resource, Trees Matter, and others
  • Utilities: SRP, APS

Methods & Findings

KER’s Melissa Guardaro, working as a part of the Healthy Urban Environments (HUE) Initiative’s Arizona Heat Preparedness and Resilience Working Group, researched where cooling centers were and were not available and why. She also mapped the change in formal and informal cooling centers over time and developed optimized areas for cooling center provisioning as well as methods to encourage greater participation. Through this work, Guardaro found that cooling centers were located in areas where facilities were willing to volunteer their space and time, not necessarily where the highest concentration of vulnerable populations were located. She and her team are using these findings to design the Cooling Center Optimization Tool which identifies the best sites for new cooling center locations that equitably reach the most vulnerable to heat.


This project aims to prevent unnecessary health impacts and eliminate avoidable heat deaths. According to Guardaro, we must develop better, more coordinated responses to urban heat, and this project may help us to that. Furthermore, what we do in Arizona can be replicated in other regions and countries.