Researchers at Iowa State University are using a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools capable of giving people in higher-risk neighborhoods more time to prepare for dangerous heat.
ISU architecture professor, Ulrike Passe is the principal investigator on the grant that will first focus on central Iowa. “We have all these buildings in Des Moines which don’t have air conditioning — but we don’t really know which ones are vulnerable, which are getting really hot in the summer,” she says. “And so that has to do with a lot of environmental microclimate factors.” She says for example, cement from parking lots can make an urban heat island, but trees can help, and they’re trying to determine how all those things work when temperatures start to warm up.
They are collaborating with the City of Des Moines, Polk County, the University of Northern Iowa, and the University of Texas at Arlington. “We want together, develop an app or an application, which is more localized for specific types of buildings, specific locations in the city, which we will then know after the research is done,” Passe says. “Which is a data-driven science project, which buildings in which conditions are more vulnerable than others.”
Passe says it seems like you could simply let people know a heat wave is expected. “And once it’s hot, you move, you go to the cooling center, but sometimes it’s been known in previous extreme heat situations that often — specifically older folks don’t actually move, they don’t go out,” she says. “They might not want to leave their pets behind. And once it’s actually hot –you can’t act anymore. So you have to be a little bit ahead of the overheating and make plans for leaving.” The one-point-two million dollar grant is for three years of study. Passe says once they have the application worked out, it could be used anywhere to help those who are vulnerable to the heat.