Aug 9, 2023 - Energy & Environment

White House announces new national system to track heat-related illness

Firefighters assisting a person who had trouble breathing during a heat wave in Phoenix, Arizona, in July 2023.

Firefighters assisting a person who had trouble breathing during a heat wave in Phoenix, Arizona, in July 2023. Photo: Caitlin O'Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Wednesday launched a new federal system for tracking heat-related illness across the country as a prolonged heat wave continues to scorch the South.

Why it matters: Extreme heat, which is becoming more common and severe due to climate change, is typically the most dangerous weather-related hazard, though its exact toll on the country is often not immediately known.

What they're saying: Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the tracker will help state and local governments plan for heat events and prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths by deploying heat mitigation strategies, such as cooling centers or outreach programs to at-risk people.

  • "Heat is no longer a silent killer. From coast-to-coast, communities are battling to keep people cool, safe and alive due to the growing impacts of the climate crisis," Becerra said in a statement.

How it works: The HHS launched the dashboard with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which maintains the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS).

  • It said the system uses NEMSIS to collect data from 911 calls for heat-related illnesses and shows heat-related emergency medical services activations on the state and county-level.
  • It also breaks down breaks down patient characteristics by age, race, gender and urbanicity.
  • The dashboard will be updated every Monday morning but will have a two-week lag behind real time.

By the numbers: On Wednesday, the first iteration of the tool showed that within the last 14 days there were at least 4,944 EMS activations in response to heat-related illnesses, and at least 15 heat-related deaths were among those activations,

  • It also took EMS an average of 12.3 minutes to reach the patient, and 64.5% of patients were transported to a medical facility.
  • Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas, South Dakota, the District of Columbia, Nebraska, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico and Georgia had the highest of heat-related EMS activations, respectively.

The big picture: On Wednesday, over 68 million people around the country were under heat alerts.

  • The National Weather Service warned that a prolonged, dangerous heat wave would continue across the southern states this week — with more record highs expected.
  • The unveiling of the dashboard comes shortly after the Department of Labor issued its first formal "hazard alert" for extreme heat in an effort to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and death.

Go deeper... Study: Climate change boosted July's heat for 81% of world's population

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