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High Temps and Humidity Trigger This Summer's First Heat Health Advisory

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For the first time this year, our extremely hot weather forecast has triggered a Heat Health Advisory for Milwaukee. It means 39 agencies will activate the plan they’ve created to help people stay safe from the heat – especially those who are most vulnerable.

The Excessive Heat Coordination Plan was developed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Area Heat Task Force, and and has been tweaked to include a Heat Vulnerability Index that pinpoints who, in the Milwaukee area, is most at risk when the temperature spikes.

Paul Biedrzycki is the city’s director of Disease Control and Environmental Health. He says the Health Department considers about 20 variables, including the age of the homes, the amount of green cover in an area and the socio-economic status of the population.

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The Heat Vulnerability Index map for the Milwaukee area.

Biedrzycki says the resulting map helps the agencies involved in the Excessive Heat Coordination Plan target their efforts in areas where people are in the greatest danger of dying from the heat.

He says, "This map overlays the near north and near south side in a big way given the age of housing stock, the likely lack of air conditioning -- at least central air conditioning, if not window air conditioning -- and the other factors, socio-educational, socio-economic status that do play into heat vulnerability in terms of awareness."

If you look at the map, the areas shaded darkest are home to the community’s most vulnerable residents. “And that allows us to more strategically target resources, including the location of cooling centers, for example, or messaging to select sub-populations in the city," Biedrzycki says.

Today, we are at the second level of activation – meaning the agencies involved in the heat task force take certain steps to ease the strain of extreme heat on the community – perhaps open cooling sites and extend their hours.

So what triggers the Extreme Heat Health Action Plan? Biedrzycki says it's the heat index. That's the combination of air temperature and humidity. If it's degrees or more, it triggers the Extreme Heat Health Action plan for Milwaukee County.

Biedrzycki says the state provided funding to help create the plan because heat waves are a public health emergency.

"They kill more people each year than many of the other extreme weather events combined, including flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, lighting strikes, so understanding the impact of heat and what you can do to prevent heat related illness like heat exhaustion and heat stroke is incredibly important," he says.

If you’re looking for a place to stay cool – or to help someone else stay safe -- county cooling centers include libraries, malls, senior centers, churches, and movie theaters. Here is a more complete list. Here are some tips to stay safe in extreme heat from the City of Milwaukee. Here are some heat related tips and resources for older adults and people with disabilities.

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