Event Recap: ABC’s Extreme Heat Working Group Kickoff Meeting

Written by Isabella Gambill, assistant Director of climate, energy, & Resilience

On December 13th, 2022, A Better City hosted a kickoff meeting for our Extreme Heat Working Group, which is intended to operate as an informal coalition of A Better City member organization representatives working together to develop extreme heat policy principles, to explore pilot projects, and to support community-based heat solutions that build upon the work of community leaders and the City of Boston’s Heat Plan and Urban Forest Plan. The December 2022 kickoff meeting built upon the Engaging Businesses in Extreme Heat Solutions event co-hosted by A Better City and Green Ribbon Commission in September 2022.

During our December 2022 kickoff meeting, A Better City provided an overview of heat resilience work in Boston, and members were asked questions like: 1) What have you or your organization done to date on extreme heat? 2) What strengths and skill sets does your organization and your work bring to heat resilience solutions? 3) What questions do you have about engaging in heat solutions and what information would you need to be able to participate in heat resilience solutions? 4) What could extreme heat policy principles look like?

Key Takeaways

In the discussion and sharing of their work, Working Group members demonstrated their breadth of knowledge and expertise across healthcare, transportation demand management, insurance, commercial real estate, cultural institutions, architecture, construction, finance, academic institutions, and regional health collaboratives. Some of the themes highlighted in our discussion include:

  • Data: There are clear gaps in evaluating the impact of heat on communities, as well as the impact of heat interventions (both on temperatures and on exposure disparities and health). There are also opportunities for the Working Group to help generate data across institutions on heat-related illness and deaths during heat emergencies in Boston, as well as on the root causes of heat vulnerability and exposure.
  • Heat Vulnerable Populations: It will be important to center our most heat vulnerable populations in our heat interventions. Some examples of heat vulnerable groups that need more attention include outdoor workers, food service workers, athletes, unhoused folks, pregnant women, people on medications that impact their ability to thermoregulate (including some anti-depressants and diuretics), and people living with mental illness, which can be exacerbated in heat events.
  • Cooling Centers: While cooling centers might be helpful interventions for some, many Working Group members emphasized that existing cooling centers are underutilized, and that many residents prefer cooling in place (either at home or work). Opportunities to help provide relief in residents’ homes could help to address the adverse health effects of high temperatures at night and could also dovetail with home energy efficiency programs. Investments in community gathering spaces and organizations like public libraries could also help to provide access to cooling for all, regardless of housing, and there has been some success in supporting Boston public libraries as community cooling centers.
  • Opportunities: There are a variety of opportunities for the business community to help support heat resilience in Boston that were discussed during our meeting. To provide immediate relief during heat emergencies, businesses could sponsor tickets to museums and movie theaters that could be distributed to vulnerable residents, in addition to supporting strategic programming and communications to enhance existing cooling centers. Within employer networks, heat safety plans and communications strategies could be deployed to provide information and heat safety protocols in advance of heat emergency events. Finally, there are many opportunities to help provide both quantitative and qualitative data on heat-related illnesses and deaths in Boston, as well as data demonstrating the efficacy of heat interventions.

Next Steps

We are in the process of finalizing our extreme heat primer and initial set of case studies on how businesses are engaging in heat resilience solutions. We also hope to partner with the City of Boston and community-based organizations on the deployment of short-, medium-, and long-term heat resilience interventions in Greater Boston. If you would like more information on our extreme heat work, have a potential case study to share, and/or would like to join our Extreme Heat Working Group, then please contact Isabella Gambill.

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