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City of Tempe preparing for 'extreme heat disaster' with resilience hub

Posted at 10:24 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 16:10:48-04

Every summer, Arizonans lose their lives as a result of extreme heat in the Valley.

A new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation warns the U.S. power grid could buckle due to extreme weather, causing energy emergencies this summer, according to a recent CNN report.

The city of Tempe is preparing though, with an 'EnVision' center, which also includes a resilience hub.

The building is an old Middle Eastern restaurant near Apache and Rural, southwest of ASU and downtown Tempe.

"Arizona is 'Ground Zero' for an extreme heat disaster. We haven’t had it yet, but it is coming," said Braden Kay, Sustainability and Resilience Director for the City of Tempe.

Kay believes too many cities are waiting to take action surrounding heat. He wants Tempe to be a proactive leader.

"Our region is turning into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia," said Kay. "So the summer of 2020 is what we are looking towards in the future. 53 days over 110°. We could see, ASU projects, upwards of 40 days are over 120°. And we are not changing...our emergency management strategies fast enough."

The EnVision center is a start though. Kay hopes the federally funding building will be one of many community centers located in neighborhoods across Tempe that can be accessible and helpful for residents.

"Every neighborhood in the country needs a community-based solution like this that can solve everyday problems, like housing and workforce development, while being ready for that disaster when it strikes," said Kay.

The building will have "flexible office space...education classes, healthcare appointments, as well as housing services and workforce development."

The "resilience center" side of the building will have a massive walk-in freezer, ice for residents on hot days, and "a cooling center where people can come on those extreme heat days."

The facility will not just be a cooling center for those experiencing homelessness. "We are ready for extreme heat disasters, and other emergency management disasters - where you can come and get ice, go to the bathroom, have air-conditioning - all right here and one building," said Kay.

"I think that people in the Valley should be very concerned about a heat catastrophe," said Dr. Melissa Guardaro, a research professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Like many experts nationwide, Dr. Guardaro is urging cities to prepare ahead of time for potential disasters that will impact everyone. "We need to worry about cascading failures," she said. "So, what if there's a heatwave...and then we have a power outage? Do people have a plan in place? Do communities have a plan in place?"

Kay is even more blunt.

"There is no question that this type of disaster and extreme heat is going to come to our city...The question is, are we strong enough to invest in that future now - to reduce the amount of casualties?"

The center is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 and open to the public for the 2023 summer. Kay hopes to have more building across Tempe, the Valley, the state and the country.

"We’re hoping that this is a solution that really gains traction," he said. "I do think this is going to save lives."