Assessing Virginia cooling centers as a heat mitigation strategy




heat, hazards, public health, Virginia, community resilience


In the United States, heat kills more people on average than any other weather-related hazard, thus the mitigation of heat-related impacts remains a significant issue within emergency management and public health communities. Research indicates the use of community cooling centers as an effective way to reduce vulnerability and adverse heat impacts. Using the Commonwealth of Virginia as a study location, this research evaluates the placement of cooling centers and assesses emergency managers’ understanding of heat-related issues. Surveying local emergency managers and aggregating media reports, a total of 256 cooling centers were identified across 39 localities. Vulnerable populations differed in their proximity to the identified cooling centers. While over 65 percent of Virginians live within a 15-minute drive of a cooling center, this favors wealthier community members; less than 7 percent of Virginia’s population below poverty lives within this same 15-minute driveshed. Spatial variability exists with many communities not opening any cooling centers. Within city and county hazard plans, the inclusion of comprehensive heat-related hazard information remains low. The research suggests further cooperation across government and nongovernment agencies is needed to improve the resilience to heat-health concerns across Virginia.

Author Biographies

Michael Allen, PhD

Department of Geography and Environmental Planning, Towson University, Towson, Maryland

Jeremy Hoffman, PhD

Science Museum of Virginia, Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Jennifer L. Whytlaw, PhD

Geography Program, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia

Nicole Hutton, PhD

Geography Program, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia


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