Online Program

A dissection of heat wave response plans among Midwestern local health departments

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Alicia Wodika, Ph.D., CHES, Department of Health and Exercise Sciences, Truman State University, Kirksville, IL
Kathleen J. Welshimer, PhD, MSPH, Department of Health Education and Recreation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL

The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest summers in U.S. history, setting records across the country.  In 2013, the CDC estimated the heat wave mortality rate from 1999-2009 in the U.S. to be approximately 700 individuals every year; which depending on weather and climate trends, may be an underestimate.  The question remains, how do we highlight heat wave preparedness within a public health infrastructure that already is negotiating competing priorities?


This project was about the underlying factors that influence preparedness for heat waves among local and state health departments.  Studying preparedness among public health officials is important, because health departments symbolize the “first line of defense” within public health infrastructure (Balbus et al., 2008).  The incorporation of logical, applicable preparedness plans proves to be essential in an era where funds are stretched, staff cuts are a reality, and time is limited. The goals of this project represented long and short term outcomes including understanding how heat wave preparedness plans are constructed and communicated.


With hopes of understanding the communicative efforts and preparedness practices of public health officials, this study was conducted with state, city, and local health department officials of three Midwestern states.  A comparative case study method following an interpretive paradigm allowed for an in-depth, yet transferrable view on the current efforts of preparedness across urban and rural sectors. 


The results of this project dissect heat preparedness plans to decipher: heat warning initiation, cooling center logistics and usage, education and outreach, partners, heat vulnerabilities, and the complexities associated with media interactions. 


The concluding remarks include:

1. Health Departments are incorporating more all-hazards preparedness approaches opposed to focusing on singular events.

2. Heat wave preparedness occurs without the existence of “written” preparedness plans.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Compare heat wave response plans among rural and urban health departments. Identify five key areas important to include in heat wave response planning.

Keyword(s): Environmental Health, Emergency Preparedness

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: The project is a culmination of my dissertation work studying heat wave response plans and climate change preparedness. From 2012-2013, I traveled to three different Midwestern states and conducted interviews with officials from state, city, and local health departments.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.