NYSERDA - Population Vulnerability to Climate Change in New York State

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) identified current and future vulnerability to extreme heat across New York State, focusing on community and individual health risk factors. A heat-vulnerability index was developed, and a heat-health impact assessment was conducted using ClimAID climate projections. The study included an assessment of the adequacy and accessibility of cooling centers, and the public’s awareness of cooling centers and heat warning systems or adaptation resources across New York. 

In this project, vulnerable populations and regions were identified in terms of individual heat-health risk and sensitivity, and a community’s sociodemographic and environmental factors that contribute to vulnerability to heat. Sixteen sociodemographic and environmental factors that can impact community heat-vulnerability in NYS were identified, per county.

The Indicators used to identify these community level factors that affect heat vulnerability were considered for: Land Cover or Use, Socio-economic status, and Language barriers (See Table 3, p. 17). Indicators of land use and cover used in this study included housing density, population density, percent of open undeveloped land, and percent of land that has high building intensity.

These factors were combined to construct a fine-scale Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) at the census tract or county level to identify communities that are mostly likely to be impacted by extreme heat events. The index was scored and geographically mapped across the State. The highest vulnerability was observed in the more urban and metropolitan census tracts of the state.

NYERDA explains that the HVI can be used to:

  1. identify vulnerable communities and areas that may need immediate support during heat waves
  2. estimate the amount and type of heat adaptation resources that will be needed, based on characteristics of vulnerable populations in that community
  3. help officials plan community heat-mitigation measures such as developing parks and increasing green space or use of building materials, green roofs, and cold pavements that help with cooling
  4. assess accessibility and adequacy of existing cool-down and adaptation resources like cooling centers and heat alerts in vulnerable areas.

A heat-health impact assessment was conducted to estimate the impact of heat on public health in future decades. The HIA was performed using health risk estimates for cardio-vascular and respiratory illnesses along with the ClimAID temperature projections for the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s. Heat-vulnerability indicators were used to identify vulnerable areas with high exposure and incidence of heat-impacted illnesses.

In addition, the study included an assessment of cooling centers across New York as a resource for heat adaptation. This assessment determined the availability, accessibility, public awareness and utilization of these resources. Cooling centers were found to be primarily located in the more urban areas of NYS, while rural areas were relatively under-provided with cooling centers. Without the use of public transportation available, a large portion of general (65%) and vulnerable (50%) populations appear to be more than walking distance from a cooling center.

The NYS Department of Health intends to incorporate these findings into the NYS Environment Public Health Tracking program website, and disseminate results to local public health and emergency management agencies to support heat adaptation planning.


Publication Date: October 2017

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  • Assessment
  • Indicators

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