Keeping Cool: Innovative Partnerships to Protect Older Adults from Extreme Heat
Extreme heat claims more lives than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. A heat emergency exists when a heat wave occurs-- when temperatures reach 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for a prolonged period of time.
Extreme heat is an environmental hazard that can have serious public health consequences. During an average summer, hundreds of people across the United States die due to exposure to high temperatures. Older adults, who may be more susceptible to environmental hazards, are among those most at risk during extreme heat events. In 1995 a heat wave in Chicago killed more than 700 people, with almost three quarters of the victims 65 and older.
Recognizing this serious problem, many States, cities and communities have programs in place to ensure that their most vulnerable citizens receive assistance during extreme heat events. The State of Pennsylvania has taken numerous steps to keep residents safe during hot weather with a special emphasis on public education. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging works closely with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), sister agencies and with the State’s 52 area agencies on aging (AAA) to respond to local heat emergencies. The Department requires each AAA to develop a Heat Emergency Plan that directs the deployment of resources and responses to the needs of at-risk elders. The plans are developed through a participatory process involving older persons, senior centers, housing authorities, nursing and boarding facilities, utilities, transportation systems and local government agencies. The Department also uses creative strategies to respond to emergencies, including toll-free "HEAT" lines and special allocations of LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) funds for emergency cooling projects in response to summer heat waves. LIHEAP funds have been used to pay electric bills to offset the cost of cooling equipment, installing air conditioners, distributing fans, and the establishment of "cooling islands," which are locations designated as air-conditioned shelters that remain open in extremely hot weather. For more information about the programs administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, visit: http://www.aging.state.pa.us
In Dallas, Texas, many older adults stay cool during extremely hot weather through a local volunteer project called "Beat the Heat." Since 1991, Beat the Heat (in the summer) and Heat the Town (in the winter) have been carried out in partnership between the City of Dallas’ Housing Department’s People Helping People program and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). ACCA members, operating as a non-profit association, annually donate their time, talents, goods and services for people in crisis. The partners donate parts, equipment and time to cool and/or heat homes from installing 110-volt window units to checking for gas and carbon monoxide leaks as well as wiring. During 2003, 190 volunteers logged more than 650 hours and drove thousands of miles to install 50 window units and serviced or repaired 86 heating units for older or disabled homeowners. In 2003, the North Texas Chapter of the ACCA’s Community Service Foundation was honored for its work in Dallas County helping those in need. People Helping People is a project of the Dallas Housing Department established in 1984 to expand the city’s ability to assist low income, older and/or disabled homeowners. For more information about this program, contact Suanne Durham at 214-670-7319.
In Chicago, the Mayor’s office has instituted a citywide summer
heat emergency plan that mobilizes city departments, including the Department
of Aging and the Department of the Environment, to implement emergency
actions if an extreme weather emergency is declared. These actions include
24-hour cooling centers and transportation to them as well as personal
visits and telephone calls to at-risk residents, many of whom are older
and homebound, to ensure they are well. People who feel they are at
risk from extreme heat can register with the city for an automatic well-being
check by calling 311. For more information about the Chicago Department
on Aging, visit: http://egov.cityofchicago.org/city/webportal/portalEntityHomeAction.do?
The San Diego County Area Agency on Aging, working with community organizations like the Salvation Army and the local public utility companies, has established 60 "cool zones" (libraries, community and senior centers, and government buildings) for older persons and those with disabilities to go to during extreme heat events. Free transportation is provided if needed, and efforts are made to assist those diverse elders throughout the county who may have language barriers. For more information about the programs of the San Diego County Area Agency on Aging, visit: http://www2.sdcounty.ca.gov/hhsa/programdetails.asp?ProgramID=2
EPA’s Aging Initiative is working to make older persons and their caregivers aware that there are simple steps they can take to avoid exposure to extreme heat, and will be producing a fact sheet on this topic in the near future. Highlighting innovative best practices and partnerships that are already making a difference in the lives of older adults is part of our strategy.