Chicago, Illinois Adapts to Improve Extreme Heat Preparedness

Chicago, Illinois Adapts to Improve Extreme Heat Preparedness

Project Summary

In 1995, Chicago experienced an extreme heat event that led to the deaths of several hundred people over the course of five days. This event prompted the city to strengthen and update its heat emergency response system. Recognizing that heat waves are expected to increase in Chicago due to climate change, supported by the Chicago Climate Impacts Report, the city adopted a comprehensive set of actions to reduce deaths from extreme heat events.

Chicago’s approach focuses on community preparedness with particular attention to vulnerable populations. Since effective public outreach is a time and resource intensive process, Chicago worked with the Field Museum, a world-renowned museum and a leader in science education and engagement, to develop an outreach program that targeted neighborhoods vulnerable to climate change. This partnership engaged the local community to increase awareness of neighborhood vulnerability and identify how residents could reduce the impact of climate exacerbated extreme heat events. This outreach effort has worked to complement traditional disaster response actions that Chicago promoted after the 1995 heat wave.

Implementation

To begin the adaptation process, Chicago first identified current disaster response needs for extreme heat resilience. The City adopted disaster responses including: expanding Notify Chicago, the city’s text and email emergency notification system, identified (e.g., public libraries) or established cooling centers, set up a call 311 program to have officials conduct well-being checks for those who may need additional assistance during events such as the elderly or infirm and conducted disaster preparedness and response trainings.

The City also assessed citywide vulnerability to future climate extreme heat conditions using an analog city analysis, the details of which are covered in the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Climate Change, Heat Waves, and Mortality Projections for Chicago. In addition, Chicago identified the most vulnerable residents (e.g., elderly, young) in order to best target heat outreach efforts.

As a final step, Chicago adopted adaptation strategies that targets extreme heat vulnerabilities and support vulnerable populations. A partnership with the Chicago Field Museum permitted Chicago to conduct tailored outreach to at-risk communities and neighborhoods to increase understanding of current and expected future changes. Relating future climate norms to a previous extreme heat event (in this case, the 1995 heat wave) helped the climate risk resonate with the residents. Chicago identified urban heat island areas that would be worsened by climate change and used this information to target green infrastructure and heat island mitigation efforts.

Applicable Tools

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  • Extreme heat events and other weather extremes can disproportionately impact at-risk or vulnerable communities. To see how Chicago has used green infrastructure to both reduce the impact of future extreme heat events and reduce stormwater runoff during extreme precipitation events, view the case study on Chicago's green infrastructure
  • For another case on how a large municipality has adapted to prepare for extreme heat events, view the case study on how New York City Assesses Extreme Heat.