Stay Cool! Understanding heat risk communication practices in Utah

Authors: Emily D. Esplin*, Utah State University, Peter D. Howe, Utah State University, Yajie Li, Utah State University, Kirsten M. Goldstein, Utah State University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Communication, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: extreme heat, heat wave, risk communication, risk perception, experience, protective behaviors, risk messaging
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Maurepas, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Heat waves are arguably the deadliest natural hazard in the U.S. and current trends indicate that they are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration. While heat-related mortality rates are rising, U.S. population growth is occurring in places most exposed to extreme heat. No singular definition or metric has emerged to classify extreme heat events. This creates problems when considering what conditions warrant communicating the risks of heat exposure to a population. The National Weather Service (NWS) acknowledges that their current guidelines to issue heat alerts do not adequately facilitate optimal heat risk communication practices across field offices. Moreover, there is little research on heat risk communication to identify strategies to effectively reach different populations. This research aims to improve the effectiveness of heat alert practices to increase awareness and mobilize adaptive strategies. This study assists practitioners seeking to reduce heat-related deaths by evaluating how decision-makers in Utah perceive heat risk, promote heat risk messaging, and what information they consider most important to communicate. Utah has historically low exposure to extreme heat but its vulnerability is increasing due to climate change and population growth. Findings indicate wide variation in experience with NWS heat products yet many participants had personally experienced extreme heat. Results demonstrate that NWS heat products are new and unfamiliar to many Utah decision-makers while personal experience with extreme heat may be a driving force to implement communication strategies. These insights may be generalizable to practitioner settings where heat risk communication is less developed or needs revision.

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