King County announces region’s first Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy

KING COUNTY, Wash. — On the anniversary of the deadliest climate-related disaster in our region’s history, King County leaders announced the development of its first-ever Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy.

Exactly one year ago, triple-digit temperatures swept the Pacific Northwest, claiming the lives of 38 people in western Washington in just three days’ time.

The deadly heatwave in June 2021, combined with growing concerns for climate change and extreme heat, has prompted King County leaders to act, creating the region’s first Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy.

“I consider this extreme heat event to be a disturbing reality check,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health —Seattle & King County.

“Perhaps the worst news of all — from a health perspective — is that not only do we expect more heatwaves from here on out, but the heat waves we do see will be longer and more intense,” Dr. Duchin said.

According to a press release from King County, “the Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy will be an integrated approach that engages and mobilizes county departments, cities, communities, nonprofits, healthcare providers, and emergency responders. It will identify actions needed to enhance the region’s immediate response to extreme heat while adapting the built environment so that people and property are better prepared for more prolonged, hazardous heat waves.”

The Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy will work in two ways: First, it will take immediate actions to help people cope with high temperatures during a heatwave. Second, it will adapt our already-built environment to better handle heat, particularly in developed areas with pavement.

Data from a 2020 heat-mapping project conducted by King County with the City of Seattle identified harmful, inequitable effects that hot summers have on the region.

According to King County, the data analysis shows areas with hard landscapes held on to heat longer than areas with more natural landscapes, in turn increasing the chances for heat-related health issues. The data depicted as high as a 20-degree difference in less urbanized areas with more land cover and less development.

The disparity is known as the urban heat island effect.

King County submitted that data as part of its application for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant. If the grant is approved, the county would receive $125,000 to support the development of the Extreme Heat Mitigation Strategy.

“What we want to do with this strategy is broaden our toolbox but also determine how to best apply those tools for our region,” said Lara Whitely Binder, the King County climate preparedness program manager.

The short-term plan, which is already in effect, includes adding more metro bus shelters in hot spots, planting more trees through the county’s 3 Million Trees initiative, activating a volunteer-based communication network to spread information quickly and providing energy-efficient AC options to low-income households.

The long-term plan is still in the works but could involve making changes to our current built environment, changing building code requirements, de-paving areas to add green space, adding water features to more neighborhoods and preserving undeveloped land.

Whitely Binder said the county hopes to announce a more detailed long-term strategy in approximately one year.

King County emergency management leaders said the county and its partners have already improved tactical responses in the wake of last year’s deadly heat wave.

Those responses include the creation and distribution of multi-language materials that inform the public on how to stay safe during heat waves, updated public health recommendations for extreme heat, increasing the languages for emergency alerts from two to nine, and activating the Office of Emergency Management’s network of volunteers who help distribute public information.

King County residents can also sign up for emergency alerts HERE.