Building Heat Resilience in Southwestern Virginia through Education
Of all weather-related disasters, heat waves cause the most deaths every year in the United States and climate change is already increasing their frequency, duration, and intensity. In urban areas, heat exposure and risk are highly related to the built environment and the everyday lived experiences of urban residents.
Of all weather-related disasters, heat waves cause the most deaths every year in the United States and climate change is already increasing their frequency, duration, and intensity. In urban areas, heat exposure and risk are highly related to the built environment and the everyday lived experiences of urban residents. Building heat resilience -- the capacity for communities to adapt to and cope with higher temperatures and heat waves -- therefore necessitates a comprehensive and place-based approach that includes education about the factors affecting risk and vulnerability, consequences of heat on health and livability, as well as potential long-term and short-term actions that residents can take to reduce risk and vulnerability. In this project, we will promote environmental literacy and strengthen climate resilience in Southwest Virginia by building a cross-sector urban heat resilience environmental literacy network that includes: the public education system, students and families, community health professionals, and City government. The project is led by Carilion Clinic in partnership with Virginia Tech, Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, and Roanoke City Government. Through these partnerships, we will build resilience pathways for dealing with long-term higher temperatures and emergency heatwaves using combined urban planning and public health approaches. We will extend and expand Virginia Tech's previous engagement with Roanoke youth (2-week summer STEM and Heat Resilience summer school program for middle school students) to involve the community more broadly to co-produce neighborhood-specific heat mitigation plans that address resident concerns in Roanoke and improve environmental literacy around the problem of urban heat as both an acute and chronic issue. We will work with teachers and administrators in the Roanoke City Public School system to institutionalize the STEM/urban planning-based curriculum we develop so that more children can benefit from it. Using youth education as an entry to engage the broader community, we will also host a family-based STEM-Urban Planning Family Summit, which will inform residents about urban planning processes and how changes to urban landscapes can make neighborhoods cooler, more comfortable, and more resilient to rising temperatures. We will also build capacity among health professionals and integrate them into community planning by: educating and enlisting the support of health professionals and Carilion's community outreach network to work with community groups and families; engaging three Carilion clinicians to participate in an eight-hour educational training to learn more about impacts of climate and health in the region and provide tools for educating other clinicians and community; and training Carilion's 37 Community Health Educators and Community Health Workers and developing community education/outreach materials on climate change impacts on health with a focus on heat illness. The urban planning and public health components to increasing heat resilience will come together in a culminating Heat Resilience Fair, at which participants in our program (students, families, residents, clinicians, health workers, and City government officials) will present ideas and solicit feedback from the broader community. The solicited ideas will be incorporated into the City's planning processes, enabling formalization of long-term goals for public health and the built environment with respect to rising temperatures.