July 06, 2021

Watson Coleman Sends Letter to President and FEMA Administrator Requesting Strategic Plan for Heat Emergencies

Recent soaring temperatures across the country and related deaths emphasize the need for a national strategic plan

Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), sent a letter to President Joseph Biden and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, requesting information on how the federal government and FEMA respond to heat emergencies.

A heatwave on the West Coast has contributed to hundreds of deaths in recent weeks including over 100 in Portland, Oregon where temperatures reached 116 degrees Fahrenheit on June 28th.

Studies estimate that living in high ambient temperatures is the cause of 12,000 avoidable premature deaths per year in the U.S. In addition, research indicates that living in areas of excessive heat, with limited green space, can negatively impact a person’s mental health. There are several causes for excessive heat in our cities including the increasing impact of climate change and compounding factors such as the Urban Heat Island effect which causes spikes in heat in urban environments with fewer trees and higher areas of impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt and metal buildings.

The letter reads, in part:

For many Americans, living in high temperatures and unexpected heat emergencies is not simply an inconvenience or nuisance, it is a life-threatening natural disaster worsened by climate change that warrants action and assistance from the federal government. We need to recognize that these heatwaves are not singular events. Rather, they are part of a pattern that we have been watching for decades.

The letter also seeks clarity on FEMA’s response plan to heatwaves and its role and responsibilities in supporting local communities during heat emergencies.

In June, Congresswoman Watson Coleman introduced the Saving Hazardous and Declining Environments (SHADE) Act to direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a grant program for formerly redlined and overburdened communities to plant shade trees. Trees have a significant impact on decreasing land surface temperatures, as they provide direct shade, decrease surrounding air temperatures through evapotranspiration, and reduce the amount of solar radiation hitting heat-absorbing surfaces like buildings and roads which release heat back into neighborhoods.

Read the letter here.