Barbara Warren on Why Tucson is Not Prepared for a Heat Emergency

The Tucson power grid is vulnerable in the event of a climate disaster, according to Barbara Warren, speaking at the Democrats of Greater Tucson on February 1, 2021.

At risk are Native Americans and Arizonians housed in trailer parks, as are older Americans in nursing homes who have no place to go, should the power grid crash.

Warren spoke about how to prepare for power outages and how to develop extreme heat awareness.

An internal medicine physician and community health organizer, Warren is trying to prevent the people in the fastest-warming cities — Tucson and Phoenix — from experiencing extreme global warming effects.

Warren is the Arizona Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility director, a leader in the Tucson chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, a Precinct Committee person in LD9, and a working advocate for clean, renewable efficient energy production.

Tucson and Phoenix were the third and fourth fastest-warming cities in the United States over the past 48 years, a new analysis of weather data shows, according to

Heat Illness and Fatality Bill 

Warren asked that citizens support HR-3668, Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, introduced by Congressman Raul Grijalva. The bill is named after a laborer who died after he was forced to work for three days in the desert without adequate training, water, or breaks.

This bill requires the Department of Labor to promulgate an occupational safety or health standard to prevent exposure to excessive heat. Excessive heat includes outdoor or indoor exposure to heat at levels that exceed the body’s capacities to maintain normal body functions and may cause heat-related injury, illness, or fatality.

Kamala Harris has introduced a companion bill in the Senate in 2020.

Warren is supporting bill HR3668 introduced by Congressman Raul Grijalva, to support OSHA worker protection standards to protect workers who face extreme heat.

Heat Wave

She says a professor at New York University, Dr. Eric Kleinberg, who wrote the book in 1995, Heat Wave, a social autopsy of the heatwave disaster in Chicago. There were 521 people who died and more than 1,000 who were hospitalized for heat-related illness in the Windy City.

Dr. Kleinberg’s studies highlight the lack of social cohesion and preparedness as key factors resulting in unnecessary deaths as a result of the extreme heat.

Larry Bodine, President of DGT lived in Chicago during the 1990’s heatwave and says cooling centers proved to be the solution for those Chicago residents who didn’t have access to air conditioning and whose windows couldn’t be opened because of the fear of crime.

Cooling centers in Arizona have been identified but not named, Warren says. “They are the best-kept secret by the Red Cross,” she says.

“Meanwhile, it’s hotter than ever in Tucson, so how can we build social cohesion and preparedness in our communities?” Warren asked.

Preparing for extreme heat

“As a result of a workshop, the Southwest Climate Smart Conference embarked on a group to build resilient neighborhoods to work on building preparedness for extreme heat,” she told DGT members.

“Our geographical disaster focus was chosen because of our well-known climate challenge, captured with studies that our regional power grids are vulnerable to extreme heat, which could cause a 2-to-3-week regional power outage while efforts are made to repair our power grid that serves four Southwestern states.

“Since 2013, we developed a team, a three-hour long workshop presentation, and a citizens’ guide in English and Spanish.

“We trained a cadre of workshop facilitators and presented workshops to over 45 Tucson neighborhoods and community groups,” Warren says.

  • “We received a grant in 2015 from the US Center for Disease Control.
  • “This grant was designed so we could offer workshops and special planning for and follow up planning in three different high-risk neighborhoods to evaluate the unique challenges and outcomes for each group.
  • “We worked in a Hispanic community, a government project for homebound elderly and disabled people, and a facility caring for at-risk native Americans.

“We might have developed a program for people living in manufactured homes,” she said. “They’re usually homes in trailer parks that are very vulnerable to extreme heat.”

She notes the follow-up in training neighborhoods was a “diversity of creativity and ongoing action in some and no action in others,” reinforcing Kleinberg’s findings that in low-income, poorly cohesive neighborhoods, there is often no capacity for climate preparation.

“On the other hand, in some neighborhoods we studied, there have been a variety of interesting models building [global warming] resistance.”

A new investigation by Mother Jones reports on who’s getting sick that should be a wake-up call,  says.

Mayor Romero Supports New Climate Plan

Major Romero is now building this work into her Tucson New Climate Adaptation Plan.

“We work with public Citizens, The University of Arizona, and the Arizona Health Department to develop standards,” Warren told DGT.

Most recently, amid this COVID-19 pandemic, Warren received a grant from the National Climate Action Coalition to adopt her building resilient workshops into a digital presentation and test drive it with several high-risk communities.

The challenge is to find high-risk communities with broadband, Wi-fi, and computers in their homes.

“We also published an Op-Ed article and three letters to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star about the advent of extreme heat and need to prevent heat injuries and death,” Warren told DGT.

Nursing Homes Not Ready

Warren says nursing homes have plans to evacuate patients to the nearest hospitals, which is not feasible considering hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients.

When cooling centers are identified, she says they will help in future summers when the temperatures—rising due to global warming—become unlivable.

Arizonans must do everything they can to bring the Earth’s temperature down by investing in clean energy bills like those currently in the House and Senate.

President Biden has targeted removing carbon from the power grid by 2035.

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