California is enduring one of the hottest summers on record, and climate change will make heat more extreme and frequent in coming years. Heat is deadly and responsible for the highest number of annual deaths among all natural hazards. Heat can also cause other disastrous conditions including power outages and poor air quality.

Extreme heat and its secondary disasters disproportionately harm the elderly and immunocompromised, people with low incomes, communities of color, people experiencing homelessness, farmworkers and construction workers, and people with disabilities. People living in urban areas suffer disproportionately under the urban heat island effect.

Research also finds that in California subsidized affordable homes are more vulnerable to extreme heat. Affordable housing is often in hotter areas, serving heat-sensitive populations all without the right infrastructure to withstand extreme temperatures. 

Through our Community Powered Resilience program, we know it’s critical for the people most impacted to create the solutions. Grounded in the experience, expertise, and partnership with frontline communities, we've compiled tips and tools below to help keep your family, your residents, your community and California safe from extreme heat.

Tips and tools

For individuals and households

For community-based organizations and affordable housing providers

  • Create a Heat Wave Strategy like this one from the Resilient Bayview. The Center for Disease Control also has guidance on creating a Heat Response Plan. Partner with your local Office of Emergency Services to see if the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) could help check on community members during extreme heat days.
  • Use the Enterprise Ready to Respond Tool to create a Business Continuity Plan for your residents, buildings and operations.
  • Use these Resilience Strategies for Multi-Family Buildings. The California Low Income Weatherization Program for Multifamily Properties may be able to support you in saving energy costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Your local Office of Emergency Services may be able to provide you with some emergency supplies typically via a “cache” program.
  • Inform community members, including tribal communities, about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and other programs that can help with energy costs. Advocate that the program be expanded, faster, and inclusive of more people.
  • Establish floor/wellness captains to check on community members, especially those most impacted by extreme heat. Survival happens when neighbors know each other! This worksheet explains what floor captains could do. Your city’s Office of Emergency Management might offer trainings or have a Community Response Team that might be able to support wellness checks on residents during extreme heat events. Seattle has lots of great resources and trainings, for example. 
  • Inform outdoor workers of their rights and report violations. Here is a list of ways to protect workers. Advocate for more resources for the California Occupational Safety and Health Agency so that they can enforce regulations.  
  • Support Assembly Bill 585, which establishes the Extreme Heat and Community Resilience Program.

For local and state governments

  • Build a Healing Centered Approach to working with frontline communities, which hold trauma from years of disproportionate impacts from disasters as well as government intervention (or lack thereof). Use the California Heat Assessment Tool (CHAT) to see the map of your jurisdiction and its heat risks.
  • Create a heat response plan in multiple languages working in partnership with frontline communities and community-based organizations. Use this guidance from the Center for Disease Control. Be sure to include ways to protect people who are incarcerated from sweltering conditions, too.
  • Make sure to have cooling centers available in neighborhoods with high percentages of people of color, people with low-incomes and affordable housing. Ensure that the cooling centers are culturally sensitive and include information in multiple languages.
  • Start a Community Safety Ambassador Program like the one in Seattle.
  • Create a tree planting and heat awareness program in partnership with frontline communities. 
  • Look for opportunities to incorporate cooling infrastructure and alternative energy sources into your resilience plans and projects. Cool roofs, for example, can lower our reliance on air conditioning, which greatly contributes to climate change. Climate Resolve is leading a project to install cool roofs in communities traditionally left out of the green economy.
  • Follow the Heat Adaptation Workgroup of the California Climate Action Team’s Preparing California for Extreme Heat: Guidance and Recommendations that has many ideas for local and state government.

For philanthropy

  • Support organizations like UndocuFund. People who are undocumented are usually not eligible, or may be afraid to apply, for many assistance programs – especially from the federal government. They may also be reluctant to take a day off when they need to rest or get relief from the heat.
  • Follow in the footsteps of climate activist Haven Coleman, who is raising money to distribute air purifiers to frontline communities. You can also donate air conditioning and other supplies to affordable housing providers, residents and community organizations.
  • Fund the creation of cooling centers and other cooling infrastructure like shading and porous surfaces in frontline communities and in partnership with them.
  • Fund and help plant trees in communities that need them. This tool from the California Forest Services shows the tree canopy in urban areas.
  • Create programs to fund energy assistance and alternative energy sources for frontline communities who might not qualify for other sources of funding or receive it fast enough. The Detroit Water Project is a great example.
  • Support the United Farmworkers and other outdoor labor rights groups so that they can keep up their amazing work educating and fighting for workers' rights.

About our Community Powered Resilience program

Disasters don’t treat all people equally. Frontline communities – Black, Indigenous and people of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, people with lower incomes, people with disabilities and seniors – suffer disproportionate impacts of disasters due to historic patterns of discrimination, disenfranchisement, and marginalization.

Our Community Powered Resilience program is creating a participatory and inclusive model for equitable disaster resilience and recovery that centers frontline communities and shapes planning for future disasters in California. Our Community Powered Resilience program offers convenings and collaboration, policy, process development, advocacy and technical assistance using effective and user-friendly tools.

Look out for our signature website with user-friendly tools and actions steps coming this fall!