Tempe Creates Emergency Response Center to Be a Climate Disaster Refuge


City of Tempe

Residents gather in a Tempe parking lot to discuss the future of the EnVision Resource Center.

In January 2021, a series of winter storms began hitting Texas. By the time they were completed, millions of people were without power, leading to heat, food and water shortages. Hundreds of people died.

Now, Phoenix-area residents fear they may face a similar crisis from a prolonged heat wave.

On a chilly Saturday morning in Tempe, people gather in a parking lot surrounded by shopping malls. At the information booths and under the awnings, they talk about what they would like to see in the vacant building at the center of the event. Some, like Michael Roquemore, envision assistance with bills and utilities, help for the homeless and mentally ill, and overall just “a place people can go for help.” . Others like Alejandria Gutierrez just want information on things like pantries.

“Is it going to be available here?” Gutierrez asked.

The weather is nice, but many at the event agree that when it’s hot, the neighborhood needs somewhere people can cool off, especially since Phoenix regularly experiences 100 days a year of freezing temperatures. three digits.

“There’s no shade here. Look at those trees. It’s not a shade tree,” Edward Damon said.

The City of Tempe’s Director of Sustainability is Braden Kay.

“So we have a building of about 1,600 square feet. We’re looking at a sign here, ‘Cafe Istanbul,’ it used to be a Middle Eastern cafe,” Kay said.

consider parking tempe

City of Tempe

Information kiosks line the parking lot outside EnVision Tempe.

Kay and her colleagues plan to turn the cafe into the city’s first “resilience center” – a year-round community center that can serve as a refuge in the event of a climate disaster. He says the concept is catching on across the country.

“We’ve consulted with multiple cities like Austin, Baltimore, and Minneapolis, and now that we’ve seen crises like Texas and the Pacific Northwest, we really understand this increased need for these emergency response centers. in every neighborhood in the country,” Kay said.

The city is investing $2.3 million in mostly federal funds in the center, including some COVID-19 relief money. Back in the parking lot, Kay and her colleagues try to learn how the center can best provide services like housing and employment assistance. But Kay hopes they will also learn what can boost people’s confidence in the building to protect them from the heat.

“What are you going to trust this building to come here at nine o’clock at night if it’s 112 degrees and your air conditioning is broken?

And Melissa Guardaro, a heat researcher at Arizona State University, has similar concerns.

“I think anyone working in this extreme heat space is not worried about it happening as much as it is, it’s just a matter of when,” Guardaro said.

Some experts are warning of a so-called “extreme heat hurricane Katrina” in Phoenix. Imagine, a historic heatwave pushes temperatures to 110 degrees or more for five days in a row, straining the power grid and causing outages across the city, meaning there’s no no air conditioning.

“We like to call it a cascading disaster,” Guardaro said. “And it’s not just heat and electricity, but your water will go out too.”

One study estimated that such a catastrophic event in Phoenix could cause 1.6 million injuries or deaths.

Kay says they aim to open the Tempe Resilience Hub in May and possibly add backup power so its air conditioning can keep running in the event of a grid outage.

“Our idea is that eventually you should be able to be within a five to 10 minute walk of the resilience center no matter where you are, but we have to start somewhere,” Kay said.

One argument in favor of resilience centers is that having a place to go and trusted people nearby can be key to surviving disasters. Research on the 1995 heat wave in Chicago shows that more socially isolated communities suffered higher death rates than those with greater social connection.

And residents like Dominique Parks, who is 58, rely on electricity for more than air conditioning.

“That would definitely be a really good plus. I would be in trouble because I have to get oxygen. So it would even be double trouble for me if my electricity went out,” Parks said.

This project in Tempe is an attempt to reverse the script of disaster relief and aid in general, which can be top-down, very expensive, chaotic and reactive – and not preventive and community-based. The idea is to better understand what people really need.

The city plans to research locations for future resilience centers. He plans to add one to two hubs per year, creating more places where more people can congregate, where the AC can still operate.

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