The Use of Cooling Centers to Prevent Heat-Related Illness: Summary of Evidence and Strategies for Implementation

In August 2017, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released the report, The Use of Cooling Centers to Prevent Heat-Related Illness: Summary of Evidence and Strategies for Implementation, which summarizes the effectiveness of cooling centers through concentrating on relevant peer-reviewed sources. After analyzing this peer-reviewed literature and examples of best practices, the document lays out the steps a health department or other applicable organizations or agencies can take to implement a cooling center. The processes provided include potential partners for each action and lays out factors that should be considered with each step that will create an effective cooling center. 

As defined by the Summary, Cooling centers are typically air-conditioned facilities that are meant to provide respite and safety to community members during periods of extreme heat. They are a relatively low-cost strategy that can and has been implemented by communities across the United States by utilizing existing infrastructure and staff already working within these facilities. In the literature reviewed by the summary, cooling centers are installed in places like religious centers, recreation centers, libraries, or even private facilities. Typically, no singular agency or group runs a cooling center alone – they are often jointly operated by health departments, city governments, and other non-profit partners. 

The document provides a literature summary of twenty different resources, and identifies the essential findings and outcomes found within each. The studies analyzed all indicate that cool environments during periods of extreme heat correlate directly with lower risks of death. According to the literature, however, there are several barriers to implementing effective cooling centers, including confusion about what services cooling centers provide, safety concerns and high crime rates in surrounding areas, and the stigmas associated with the need to use a cooling center in the first place. The report also notes that while cooling centers can help create these cool environments, they should only be part of a larger heat action plan. 

The summary closes with suggested steps and considerations agencies or organizations should consider when implementing a cooling center within the community:

  1. Scoping of the heat problem within the specific community;
  2. Analyzing the existing landscape of the community and identifying key partners;
  3. Assessing frontline populations within the area;
  4. Planning the development of the cooling center;
  5. Implementing the actual cooling center; and
  6. Then evaluating the success of the cooling center, and if effective, publishing on the strengths and weaknesses of the cooling center. 

In evaluating the effectiveness of a cooling center, the Summary suggests that the applicable agency or organization consider the setting where the cooling center has been opened, the population and makeup of the community where the cooling center is located, and the actual services the cooling center provides. 

Publication Date: August 7, 2017

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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