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  • Frank Romo

Mapping tool identifies heat stress vulnerability patterns in Michigan.

Over the past five years heat waves across the U.S. and Europe have resulted in thousands of deaths. These extreme weather conditions have increased hospitalization rates for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and are a direct consequence of extreme heat exposure. Unfortunately, these effects are predicted to increase as global temperatures rise with climate change. In response to these urgent health challenges, our team created the MI-Environment Heat Vulnerability Index map. This online tool helps community and academic leaders identify areas with vulnerable populations and applies a cumulative environmental framework in Michigan. This framework allows for assessment of strategies acknowledging that people can be exposed to multiple environmental and social stressors. As part of the University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship Grant Program we engaged local stakeholders in educational workshops about heat stress and vulnerability and to give us feedback as we developed the tool. We combined our knowledge of public health, land use planning, and geospatial analysis to create the MI-Environment Heat Risk mapping platform in partnership with Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and Michigan Tech Research Institute.

In a peer-reviewed article recently published in Health and Place, our team identified geospatial patterns in Michigan to reveal the relative heat stress vulnerability for the entire state. We know that vulnerability to heat is linked to characteristics in our environment (e.g., urban heat island effect), ambient temperatures, as well as people’s susceptibility to heat. Our assessment takes into account all of these factors when calculating relative heat stress vulnerability across the state. The MI-Environment Heat Stress Vulnerability Map highlights areas in Michigan with relatively higher heat stress by calculating local communities’ exposures related to Place, Temperature and Personal vulnerabilities.

By including such a diverse set of characteristics in our analysis the MI-Environment tool provides a variety of ways to explore the data. One of tool’s main features is the ability to toggle the variables on and off and examine how each of these characteristics (place, temperature and social vulnerabilities) individually contribute to the heat stress index. Our results highlight that urbanized areas in Michigan are relatively more vulnerable to heat stress. First, urbanized areas often have more impervious surface and less tree canopy cover than rural areas, which can cause temperatures to rise at a faster rate.

In addition, we found that inequalities based on race and socioeconomic status make Michigan residents even more likely to suffer from heat stress exposures. Some of the highest vulnerabilities and inequalities are in major population centers, like Detroit, but these inequalities can be observed statewide and all follow a similar pattern of showing greater risk of heat stress in urbanized areas.


For more information about the article please visit the citation below. Health and Place: Koman, P.D., Romo, F., Swinton, P., Mentz, G.B., de Majo, R.F., Sampson, N.R., Battaglia, M.J., Hill-Knott, K., Williams, G.O., O’Neill, M.S., Schulz, A.J., 2019. MI-Environment: Geospatial patterns and inequality of relative heat stress vulnerability in Michigan. Health Place 60, 102228.

About the Authors:

Patricia D. Koman, MPP, PhD: Trish Koman has been an advocate for public health protection for over 25 years as a scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and now the University of Michigan. While at EPA, Dr. Koman was the principal author of landmark first national air pollution standards for the fine particulate matter. She established an international program to reduce diesel emissions from seaports, and she managed multi-disciplinary benefit-cost analyses, regulatory programs, and technological innovation initiatives. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Koman’s community-engaged scholarship includes health studies related to air pollution, obesity, and cardiopulmonary health. She co-chairs the Washtenaw chapter of the Climate Reality Leaders. Dr. Koman is also the founder and President of Green Barn Research Associates, a non-profit specializing in science, policy and communication. She earned a masters degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. @trishkoman

Frank Romo: Frank is the founder of Detroit based, RomoGIS Enterprises: a data, design and research collaborative aimed at promoting the public good through innovative technical solutions. Frank has a long history of being a community advocate, planner and activist for public health and safety, social justice. As the CEO of RomoGIS, Frank provides communities with technical solutions that empower residents to effectively impact their local communities. In his work with the University of Michigan, Frank engages in community based research and develops geospatial applications that advance equity and social justice in cities. Frank earned his Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Michigan. He is a now a GIS instructor at the University and works with researchers from the School of Social Work, Urban Planning and Public Health to promote greater vitality in cities. @romo_gis

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