Cooling Centers

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Natasha Harper-Madison
Posts: 57
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:52 pm

Cooling Centers

Post by Natasha Harper-Madison »


I’m currently typing this post from City Hall, where I had to bring my children following a power outage in East Austin that left more than 3,400 Austin Energy customers without electricity, my home included. Earlier in the afternoon, the heat-index in our neighborhood hit 114 degrees. This is a heatwave we all knew was coming, but I worry we nonetheless were still not fully prepared for.
While I appreciate the efforts, we as a municipality have made in terms of opening up public facilities for use as cooling centers that are freely accessible via Capital Metro, I still have grave concerns about the health and wellbeing of our residents, particularly given the fragile nature of our statewide electrical grid. As we learned during Winter Storm Uri, we should not rule out the possibility of a sustained, citywide power outage that could leave hundreds of thousands of residents without air conditioning and electricity to power life-sustaining medical devices.
There are two things we know for certain: 1) Central Texas’ typically hottest days are still weeks away, and 2) These kinds of heatwaves will only become more frequent and more brutal in the years ahead thanks to unchecked climate change.
I had hoped we as a body might assemble this month to discuss our challenges and opportunities, but I understand how coordinating our individual schedules during the month of July presents its own set of challenges. However, given the urgency of the situation, I do not believe we should wait to start having this public conversation.
I’ve enumerated some outstanding concerns and questions I still have about our cooling centers below. I encourage you all to add yours to the list as well.
1) Many of our constituents have aptly raised concerns about cooling centers that close in the late afternoon when there are still plenty of dangerously hot hours left in the day. What is being done to ensure that people who are enjoying relief don’t suddenly find themselves turned back out into the heat without any other options?
2) Hot nights offer limited and short relief between hot days. Do we have any plans moving forward to establish overnight cooling centers? What extra accommodations and resources would be needed to support that kind of operation?
3) I understand cooling centers currently allow people to bring their service animals, but if a large number of Austin households lose power, what resources are available for family pets?
4) Which, if any, designated cooling centers have backup generators? What strategies are in place to ensure that people who rely on medical devices such as oxygen machines can be accommodated without disruption?
5) Do we or can we ensure that cooling centers are staffed with health care workers?
6) Do we have other transportation options for people who are unable to access CapMetro’s services?
7) In the event of a long-term outage, do we have plans for our cooling center capacity to scale to citywide needs, and are we able to provide adequate onsite services to meet daily needs such as meals and hygiene?
8) Are we exploring collaborative opportunities with local partners such as our school districts, Austin Community College, and private partners?
9) What is our long-term strategy for the remainder of the summer?
10) Are we planning right now for similarly dangerous weather conditions in the winter?
We have seen time and time again that these events fall disproportionately harder on marginalized residents, including Black, Brown, and lower-income Austinites. Our unhoused neighbors are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. As a matter of environmental justice, we are obligated as a municipality to have in place the sort of resilient strategies that will protect the least among us even in the worst of situations. Worsening climate change will continue to bring increasingly erratic and severe weather, but that’s no excuse. Expecting the unexpected should be our guiding mantra, and I look forward to working with each of you, and with city staff, to search for innovative, equitable solutions.

Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member District 1