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How to build resilience against extreme heat events

Heat in our cities poses a serious threat that demands more attention. Extreme heat events are going to increase in intensity, frequency, and duration in the future as the impacts of climate change and urbanisation are increasingly felt in our cities, and as Europe grows older.

This poses a great threat to society and city infrastructure, but especially to vulnerable groups like the very young and very old. Here are just some of the things we can do collectively to build the resilience we need and adapt to climate change-induced extreme heat events…

Individuals and local communities

  1. Prepare by reading up on extreme heat and the impacts it could have on you, your family and your life. Check on friends and neighbours, especially older people in your community who may be alone or lack social networks.
  2. Plant trees in your garden for shade! Private properties make up a significant amount of urban space, depending of the characteristics of the city. For example, 60% of the land in Rotterdam is private, pointing to the importance of action taken by residents/private owners.

Building managers and developers

  1. Carefully consider the users of your space – are the particular needs of the users being met in the way your building is being planned and operated? How can you work with the users to better understand their needs?
  2. Consider more innovative design solutions like passive design and external shading with dynamic controls to minimise the impact of heat on the building and its surroundings.

Architects and urban planners

  1. Evaluate your designs regarding their contribution to the UHI effect.
  2. Communicate with building managers and developers to build trust in more innovative solutions.
  3. Consider more thoughtful design solutions that minimise the impact of heat on buildings and their surroundings and better consider the needs of the building’s users.

Healthcare workers

  1. Educate and train caregivers on the risk heat poses to vulnerable groups. Empower them to know how to to prepare for the risk, absorb and recover from it when it occurs, and apply lessons learned in order to adapt to the future.

Policy makers

  1. Ensure data and methodologies are freely available.
  2. Promote networking between industry, academia and practitioners.
  3. Encourage risk preparation, absorption and recovery through subsidies and effective communication.

Heatwave response and management

As we attempt to build resilience into our urban environments, we must all remember the four key ‘umbrella’ steps to take…

  1. Prepare: Data is crucial for increasing the capacity to prepare for challenges. In a city with a strong capacity to prepare, the municipality has conducted research on important thresholds and criteria particularly for vulnerable groups. Risk and vulnerability assessments pinpoint the particular threat to our 2-year-old and 80-year-old.
  2. Absorb the challenges: A city with a strong capacity to absorb can dynamically cope with an extreme heat event, while maintaining public functions and avoiding negative impacts. Our 80-year-olds and 2-year-olds change their behaviour in response to a heatwave, for example by drinking more water, taking midday naps and shifting routines to earlier in the day. Families and communities check on each other.
  3. Recover. The third approach to building resilience is to enable a quick recovery. The availability and accessibility of resources that
    allow quick recovery is essential. For example, emergency financial support is made available to schools and care homes. Information is freely available and effectively communicated to caregivers and vulnerable groups during a heatwave.
  4. Adapt. In cities that have a strong capacity to adapt, reflective learning is key. This relies on adequate data collection during a heatwave event. Stakeholders at all levels, including in schools, hospitals and care homes, can then see what went wrong, what was done right, and how to improve the experience of our 2-year-olds and 80-yearolds the next time around