July 27, 2021

Tips and Tools for Combatting Extreme Heat

Extreme heat danger sign on highway

By Jamie Albrecht

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

  • Follow along with the National Weather Service and your local government officials to be prepared for hot days. OSHA-NIOSH is a great smartphone app for understanding how hot it feels.
  • Use these Heat Pocket Guides available in six languages to learn what to do to prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • Use AARP’s toolkit to help others stay cool during extreme heat.
  • Learn more about the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps eligible low-income households with the goal of managing and meeting their immediate home heating and/or cooling needs. 

For community-based organizations and affordable housing providers

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. Use Cooling our Communities from Alameda County as an example.
  • 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!

For more information about our Community Powered Resilience Program, contact Jamie Albrecht at jalbrecht@enterprisecommunity.org.

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