May 6, 2024

Arizona is boosting efforts to protect people from the extreme heat after hundreds died last summer

Arizona's new heat officer is working with local governments and nonprofit groups to open more cooling centers and ensure homes have working air conditioners.

Dr. Eugene Livar Arizona Heat Officer hero Dr. Eugene Livar, Arizona's first heat officer for the Arizona Department of Health Services, speaks during a news conference held by the ADHS and Governor's Office of Resiliency ahead of Heat Awareness Week at the Escalante Multi-Generational Center Friday, May 3, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

By ANITA SNOW Associated Press

Arizona's new heat officer said Friday that he is working with local governments and nonprofit groups to open more cooling centers and ensure homes have working air conditioners this summer in a more unified effort to prevent another ghastly toll of heat-related deaths, which topped 900 statewide last year.

"We don't want to see that happen again," Dr. Eugene Livar said of last year's deaths. "We cannot control it, even though we can control our preparation in response. And that's what we've been focusing on."

Livar, a physician with the Arizona State Department of Health Services, was named to his post by Gov. Katie Hobbs earlier this year, making him the first heat officer of a U.S. state in the nation. The new position recognizes the serious public health risks posed by climate-fueled extreme heat, which has increased in recent years.

Livar was joined at a news conference to kick off Arizona Heat Awareness Week May 6-10 by officials from governments including the neighboring cities of Phoenix and Tempe and Maricopa County, Arizona's largest county that saw a record 645 heat-related deaths last year. In attendance was climate scientist David Hondula, who will see his third summer as the first heat officer in Phoenix, America's hottest city.

The increased coordination comes as federal agencies seek better ways to protect human beings from the dangerous heat waves that are arriving earlier, lasting longer and increasing in intensity. The National Weather Service and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month presented a new online heat-risk system that combines meteorological and medical risk factors with a seven-day forecast that is simplified and color-coded for a warming world of worsening heat waves. Last summer, Phoenix experienced the hottest three months since record-keeping began in 1895, including the hottest July and the second-hottest August. The daily average temperature of 97 F (36.1 C) in June, July and August passed the previous record of 96.7 F (35.9 C) set in 2020. Phoenix also set a record in July with a 31-day streak of highs at or above 110 F (43.3 C).

This year's hot season began Wednesday in Maricopa County, where it runs from May 1 through Sept. 30.

Hobbs this year proclaimed May 6-10 as Arizona Heat Awareness Week to draw attention to the dangers of the summer in this arid Southwest state and work on ways to better protect people. Arizona for the first time this year also has an Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan.

Among the new measures the state is introducing are at least a half dozen mobile cooling centers made with shipping containers that are solar powered and can be moved to wherever they may be needed.

The City of Phoenix for the first time this summer is opening two 24-hour cooling centers, one in a downtown public library and the other in a senior center.

Maricopa County has set aside nearly $4 million to expand evening and weekend hours of cooling and respite centers where people can escape the outdoor heat, rest in an air-conditioned space and drink plenty of water. It is also working to help people with limited resources to get help paying their utilities and to have their air conditioners repaired or replaced.

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