Pima County, Arizona, Enhances Community-Designed Heat Relief with GIS
Across the country, communities are being impacted by severe weather resulting from climate change. Some states, particularly in the southwest, are experiencing more intense effects as the already hot desert climates grow even warmer.
From 2019 to 2021, Pima County, Arizona, had 36 documented heat-related deaths, and 2023 has by far been the worst, with 46 heat-related deaths. Although the temperature did not rise above 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the county already had 48 days of 100-plus temperatures. Due to the negative effects of prolonged heat exposure on the community’s health and well-being, the county knew it had to address the issue. So, using geographic information system (GIS) technology, the Pima County Health Department launched the Pima County Health Relief Network (HRN). This GIS-powered online resource enabled the county to take a strategic, streamlined approach to preventing heat-related deaths and illnesses.
Building a Connected Heat Relief Effort
GIS tools enable organizations to ensure their work is cohesive across departments and organizations. Most importantly, GIS provides transparency to their solutions, allowing communities to be aware of and utilize the interventions put in place.
Created via a regional partnership between Pima County, tribal nations, municipalities, nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities, and local businesses, the HRN coordinates the mapping of heat relief locations, water stations, splash pads, public water fountains, and water donation sites. With the goal of preventing heat-related illnesses and deaths among vulnerable populations, the map and directories are updated annually as new partners sign up throughout the summer, from May 15 through September 15. The key to this coordinated effort is automation. The health department leverages many GIS tools to provide real-time updates and bring awareness to available lifesaving resources as soon as new partners sign up or new cooling centers open.
Using ArcGIS Survey123, a simple and intuitive form-centric data gathering solution, community organizations can submit their information as well as provide updates when needed. This information immediately uploads to the Heat Relief Network Cooling Center dashboard.
Prioritizing Vulnerable Communities
Not only is Pima County prioritizing heat relief initiatives, but it is also applying an equity lens to its approach. Applying the CDC/ATSDR Social Vulnerability Index to its GIS work allows the county to visualize where vulnerable communities are and allocate resources there.
Pima County considered people experiencing homelessness in this work, recognizing that these individuals may not have easy access to air conditioning or cool shelter and are at a greater risk of suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. To ensure these communities were aware of the HRN, the county provided them with hard copies of maps displaying the locations of cooling centers and hydration stations. The county also left informative handouts at county public libraries and other public facilities that are easily accessible by foot or public transportation. This ensured that those without access to technology could still identify public resources to find relief from the heat.
The Pima County Health Department has further developed partnerships with local libraries and social services to share resources in a timely way, on printouts or with QR Codes and via public computers. This is just the beginning for the department to continue to use spatial analytics to inform, track, and share resources to improve the health of the community. By next year, the department will be able to analyze where hot spots of people experiencing homelessness in the county exist and allocate resources more efficiently to those areas.