Jun 28, 2022 - News

King County officials want to prevent deadly heat waves

Two side by side maps, with the right one showing that areas on the east side of King County cool off at night more than denser-populated areas in Seattle and South King County.
South King County doesn't cool down at night like much of East King County does. Maps courtesy of King County

King County is trying to ensure future heat waves aren't as deadly as last June's, which killed more than 30 people countywide.

Why it matters: County officials say climate change is leading to more frequent extreme heat waves, which will cause additional deaths if precautions aren't taken.

What's happening: County officials told reporters Monday they are working to develop the area’s first extreme heat mitigation strategy.

  • Local leaders particularly want to reduce the effects of extreme heat in some of the county's denser urban areas.
  • A 2020 mapping project showed those areas didn't cool down at night like other parts of the county did, largely due to differences in the amount of pavement and surfaces that retain heat.
  • Many of the hardest-hit areas are home to large populations of people of color, county leaders said.

Zoom in: The Chinatown-International District was one area where residents struggled last year to stay cool in their homes, said Karia Wong, family resources director at Chinese Information Service Center.

  • During a press conference Monday, Wong said going outside didn't provide much relief due to concrete in the neighborhood.
  • “A lot of the seniors were suffering from the urban island effects,” Wong said.
  • Since then, county officials say they have increased outreach to people who don't speak English as their primary language — including sending emergency alerts in nine languages instead of two. But there is more work to do.
  • "A focus on equity in this work is essential," said Lara Whitely Binder, King County's climate preparedness program manager.

What's next: The county is hiring a person to coordinate its heat mitigation efforts, which are likely to include planting trees, increasing access to green space, and helping retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient.

  • King County has applied for a $120,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist.
  • An overarching plan is expected to be completed by next summer.
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