Flash floods. Extreme heat. Drought. Storm surges. As the climate changes, extreme weather events will likely become more common and more intense, resulting in widespread health concerns. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated in 2012, these extreme events can cause injury, death, and destruction. Local, state, and national health officials are preparing to handle possible adverse health outcomes caused by extreme weather.
In order to decrease injury and save lives, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDHMH) and other health departments nationwide are developing ways to quickly identify the type and scope of adverse health outcomes during a specific event.
NYCDHMH is one of 18 state and city health departments receiving money from CDC’S Climate and Health Program through the Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative (CRSCI) to work on climate and health initiatives. CRSCI’s main goal is to strengthen the capacity of state and local health agencies to deal with health challenges associated with climate change.
New York City health officials are using CDC grant money to partner with local and national climate scientists to
- understand climate change in their area,
- develop and use models to predict health impacts,
- monitor health effects of extreme weather events
- identify areas most vulnerable to these effects, and
- increase real-time surveillance for specific health outcomes such as heat illness.
Specifically, CRSCI funding has helped New York City health officials develop climate models to create a more sensitive and customized warning system during heat waves. They studied hospitalization and death rates during past heat events and used this information to project future heat-related illness and death under changed climate conditions. They also modeled the urban heat island effect in specific locations to be prepared to respond to people at risk in these areas.
Using data and modeling techniques, health officials are more prepared for possible health outcomes during extreme heat and can respond quickly to health needs. Real time surveillance for specific symptoms in patients at hospitals and emergency departments can inform health officials about spreading illness due to extreme heat or cold.
During Hurricane Sandy and its ensuing cold temperatures, NYCDHMH used this surveillance system to identify an increase in hypothermia cases. Because they were able to identify this health concern quickly, officials could respond immediately to decrease exposures to excessive cold, likely decreasing the rates of illness and death from hypothermia. Using this real-time hospitalization data, NYCDHMH can quickly identify and reduce severe health outcomes resulting from a number of extreme weather events.
Read more about CDC’s work with states and communities through the CRSCI.