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Understanding Public Perception of Extreme Heat and Health Risks

Alexis St. Juliana, Senior Associate, Climate and Environment


May 11, 2024

Recent heat waves in the United States are linked to hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses. Heat ranks among the top weather hazards contributing to fatalities each year. To identify best practices for warning community members of the impacts of heat on human health, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service commissioned a study to provide equitable and informed heat products and services to protect public health and prevent the loss of life, including for historically underserved and overburdened populations.

The project applied a multi-pronged research approach including a literature review, digital survey, and focus groups to yield 10 cross-cutting findings. Core findings included:

  1. Emphasize actions to improve health outcomes among those at greatest risk
  2. Enact measures to overcome messaging barriers to those at greatest risk
  3. Make messages clear and concise, but use the strongest warning language strategically to avoid message fatigue
  4. Tailor specific messaging in terms of location, severity, and other locally relevant factors, including language
  5. Use multiple platforms to distribute messages and employ systematic means for partners to amplify information
  6. Issue heat-related communication sooner
  7. Expand the network of trusted intermediaries disseminating messages to include medical professionals, social workers, and such community members as faith leaders
  8. Coordinate with local institutions on a regular basis to leverage their capabilities and networks when heat events occur
  9. Better define federal agency roles about heat to achieve unified messaging and goals
  10.  Emphasize preparedness