BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – With the hottest weeks of the year approaching, a pair of Indiana cities are embarking on a two-year study of high heat's effect on residents to develop local strategies and protect against the negative health impacts of summer heat.
Through a collaboration with Indiana University's Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Clarksville and Richmond have been selected to participate in ERI's inaugural Beat the Heat program.
The program provides funding for both local governments to hire full-time heat relief coordinators who will work with community members and lead assessments that identify the most vulnerable people and hottest places on high-heat days. These efforts will help inform sustainable, long-term planning and outreach programs to help Hoosiers cope with steadily rising summer temperatures.
"As hot days become increasingly common in Indiana, Hoosiers are becoming more familiar with the risks of extreme heat, including heat-related illness and death," said Dana Habeeb, an assistant professor at IU's Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering and the program's principal investigator. "We are thrilled to be partnering with Clarksville and Richmond to better understand and address the risks posed by high heat to residents in their communities."
"Beat the Heat will not only help Clarksville and Richmond in understanding the effects of extreme heat on their communities, but it will also pave the way for strategies and solutions to be developed for other Hoosier communities in how to best prepare and respond to growing heat issues," said Denny Spinner, executive director of OCRA.
According to the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment report, the number of extremely hot days will continue to rise significantly in all areas of the state due to climate change. In past decades, southern Indiana averaged about seven days in which the temperature reached 95 degrees or hotter. By mid-century, the region is projected to experience 38 to 51 extremely hot days per year, raising the risk of increased hospitalizations due to heat exhaustion and heat stroke—especially among children and the elderly.
"This meaningful partnership displays a commitment to those members of our community who are at risk of adverse outcomes as a direct result of climate change,” said Richmond Mayor Dave Snow. "We must continue to not only reduce our negative impact on the environment but invest in assisting the people of our communities in finding relief during severe weather conditions."
In addition to funding for a new staff member and costs associated with program activities, each Beat the Heat community will receive hospital and emergency management services data related to how hot days and nights impact residents' health as well as a map of the community's vulnerable populations. Both Richmond and Clarksville will be contributing to a national campaign to map the hottest parts of US cities, with guidance and technical support provided by CAPA Strategies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This month, Richmond and Clarksville are convening Heat Relief Task Forces, with members representing a cross-section of each community, to advise program leaders and contribute to the program's success. The task force members will meet every other month over the course of the program.
Examples of strategies communities can implement to combat the risks posed by heat include deploying 24-hour cooling centers, increasing tree and vegetation cover, using materials in building and infrastructure that reflect sunlight, and encouraging residents to hydrate and take breaks during the hottest times of the day.
"The Town of Clarksville is focused on taking every measure possible to improve the quality of life for each of its residents," said Clarksville Town Council President Ryan Ramsey. "Last year, the Town formally adopted its first ever tree canopy program to help address our fading urban canopy. Participating in Beat the Heat aligns perfectly with what the Town is trying to accomplish."