Few use cooling centers; other plans being put in place to help vulnerable people

When the heat took an uncharacteristic climb for a couple of days in mid-June, one emergency cooling shelter opened in Richmond, but no one used it.
Lack of use could be a problem, local officials say, and they are trying to figure out why the centers aren’t used. Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, and not everyone is able to get away from it.
“All the data shows temperatures are increasing every year,” Matthew Cain, director of the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency, said.
High temperatures in June were running about average in Richmond as of June 25, in the low 80s. But after a week with highs in the 70s, high temps at the Indiana American Water Works station soared into the 90s from June 14-16, according to the National Weather Service.
“Earlier in the season is when there is the most damage,” said Lucille Mellen, the City of Richmond’s heat relief coordinator. Bodies are not used to high temperatures in late spring or early summer and have a harder time coping, she said. Later, after warm weather has been around for several weeks, people are more used to it.
After an 88-degree day on June 13 in which a powerful windstorm knocked out electric power to many homes and businesses, the Richmond high soared to 93 degrees the next day. Without electricity to run many home air conditioners, Wayne Township trustee Susan Isaacs opened an emergency cooling station at the Grassroots Center, downtown 819 E. Main St.
The township also keeps the Martha Dwyer Community Center at 1417 North A St. open for cooling, she said.
No one came to either place to cool down, Isaacs said. “But it’s important to have them.” Township staff also drive the streets in a blue van when the temperatures are high, handing out bottles of cold water.
Most cooling centers are simply air-conditioned buildings that are open to the public. People can go there to get out of the heat. Some provide water and snacks. People also are known to get out of the heat by eating at restaurants or visiting shopping centers and stores.
The City of Richmond maintains a list of cooling centers.
Public libraries, community centers and some churches have served as cooling centers in the county outside of Richmond, according to Cain. The Wayne County Emergency Management Agency last week started asking these places if they are willing to serve again.
“People don’t use them as well as you might think,” Cain said. “We’re looking at what might be the obstacles to people coming in, whether it’s transportation, stigma, their locations, and even if they are needed. But we are working and trying to be prepared.”
The City of Richmond is developing a plan for helping residents deal with the heat. It is one of two cities in Indiana that is developing a heat relief plan with a coordinator funded by Beat the Heat grants from Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
“The goal is to alleviate the burden for vulnerable persons,” Mellen said. “We are creating a strategy, some for this upcoming summer and more for next year.”
Mellen, whose position ends in June 2023, is:
> Encouraging residents to sign up for the free Emergency Management Agency’s Hazardous Weather Subscription Service, called NIXLE. It notifies residents when high temperatures are expected and occurring. Sign up at https://local.nixle.com/zipcode/47374/
> Piloting a check-in program that will allow people to sign up to receive information about how to check in with especially vulnerable neighbors and friends to make sure they are OK during high heat.
> Creating cool kits which will be passed out to people experiencing homelessness during periods of high heat. These will contain materials and educational information that will help alleviate the physical burden of heat.
> Working with the Wayne County Health Department on hosting a community training workshop about heat-related illness.
> Creating a toolkit for emergency responders and governments to share information with residents.
Last Aug. 23, 13 volunteers helped collect temperature data in different places in the city. At three times – morning, midday and evening – each drove to specified locations and recorded temperatures. They found that temperatures downtown with its buildings and paved surfaces were 7.2 degrees higher than in areas with more rural landscapes.
To help alleviate that, Mellen’s office and the city’s Street Tree Commission received a grant from Indiana American Water Co. to create a tree planting and volunteer maintenance group. “Tree planting is one of the most beneficial mitigation strategies when it comes to lowering ambient air temperatures,” she stated.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s hospital has seen a seasonal uptick in heat cases.
“We have had some patients checking in to the ER with heat-related complaints over the past couple of weeks with the high temperatures,” Anna Osborn-Brown, director of emergency services and urgent care services at Reid Health. “Those who are in high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with underlying conditions that are exacerbated by the heat such as COPD, and those who work outside or in factories that reach extremely high temperatures have been the most common to present for heat-related care.”

Cooling centers
Call ahead to be sure they are open.
Morrisson-Reeves Public Library, 80 N. 6th St., 765-966-8291
Richmond Senior Recreation Center, 1600 S. 2nd St., 765-983-7300
IU East Library, 2325 Chester Blvd., 765-973-8311
Rock Sollid Ministries, 1024 E. Main St., 765-962-5099
Central United Methodist Church, 1425 E. Main St., 765-962-8543
Dwyer Community Center, 1417 North A St., 765-488-2928
Grassroots Center, 918 E. Main St., 765-973-9392
In Wayne County outside of Richmond, the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency is developing a list of cooling centers. In the past, they have included public libraries, a community center and a church.

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