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Sparks

Why Cooling Centers Were Closed Last Week

Not a promising start to summer for urban emergency planners.

People staying cool.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

With a brutal heat dome still threatening parts of the United States, one more thing about this summer has become clear: Cities are struggling to protect their most vulnerable citizens from extreme temperatures.

Just last week, on Juneteenth, over 82 million Americans were under active National Weather Service extreme heat alerts — but, due to the national holiday, many publicly operated cooling centers were closed. While Boston had opened 14 new facilities in partnership with the Centers for Youth and Families, for instance, none of them stayed open Wednesday.

The same thing happened in New York, where more than 200 cooling centers were closed for the holiday, most of them libraries. While other heat preparedness measures were still in place — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced free admission for state parks — residents counting on a facility near home had to change plans last minute. On Sunday, New York turned 45 public schools into cooling centers, this time because the public libraries were closed due to budget cuts.

In Chicago, only one cooling center was open during the holiday. The lack of cooling spaces available sparked action from homelessness advocates, who are urging the city to offer more cooling centers that are open 24/7 and also to make those facilities available when the heat index is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because cooling centers are often multi-purpose spaces, data on their usage is limited. In Boston, 245 people visited cooling centers from June 18 to 20, the mayor’s office told me. New York City’s Department of Emergency Management could only say that six people visited four of the schools open Sunday.

Emergency response services also attended more heat-related calls this past week. John Chisholm, chief of the Concord Fire Department, told The New York Times that the department received more calls than usual from seniors struggling with the heat on Tuesday. In New Hampshire, 39 individuals called 911 due to the heat on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — more than the total amount of calls the service received in all of June last year.

Cooling companies also struggled to meet demands. An HVAC company in Hartford, Connecticut told USA Today that it received about 100 calls for service per day last week — numbers usually only seen during peak summer temperatures in August. To protect its technicians, the company had to turn down requests from clients that would have required work in an attic.

Throughout the week, cities canceled activities like food markets, street fairs, Little League practices, and field trips, were due to the heat. Instead, people flocked to beaches. In Massachusetts, the number of people heading to the coast was so high on Wednesday that some were forced to head back home due to intense traffic and lack of parking spaces. One exception was New York’s annual Mermaid Parade, which went on as scheduled.

Julia Vaz profile image

Julia Vaz

Julia is an intern at Heatmap and a senior at Brown University, where she studies political science and media. She is also the managing editor of the newsroom at The Brown Daily Herald.

Sparks

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J.D. Vance.
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