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The Socioeconomic Inequalities of Heat Emergencies

Will 2019 be as hot for cities as 2018?

Heat emergencies are not something we planned for back in the early 1990s. The Chicago heat wave of 1995 was the first indicator to me that we had an emerging problem here in the United States. By then I had lived and worked in really hot places, like Georgia where you gasped for air at 5 a.m. when exiting air conditioned quarters because of the heat and the humidity. Going to Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., in August meant running through outdoor showers with your clothes on to cool the trainees down and avoid heat injuries.

This Guardian article, Heat: the next big inequality issue, highlights the issues of 2018 and the prognosis that can be expected. Let's face it, if we lose electrical power in a heat emergency, many more people will die than we have seen perish in the past. And, it won't be just the poor and homeless.

We are getting close to a time when construction workers will not be able to work outside when we have extreme heat days. Roofers in particular and those doing asphalt paving are extremely vulnerable to heat injuries. 

Even Seattle, a typically cooler city, has cooling center plans. Yesterday and today, we have had record heat temperatures for May, topping out in the mid-80s. A nice summer day in many parts of the United States, but hot by our normal standards. It was in the 60s earlier in the week.

Your disaster response plan needs to have a section on heat emergencies, those that happen when the electrical power is on, and for when the lights and air conditioning won't come on due to a power outage. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.