Earth Week: How Chicago is working to prevent another 1995 heat tragedy

Monday is Earth Day, and as summer weather approaches, Chicago officials are preparing for potential severe weather.

“Last summer, we had a heat index on Aug. 24 that reached 120 degrees. That was the highest we had recorded in Chicago,” said meteorologist Eric Lenning of the National Weather Service (NWS).

Lenning anticipates another hotter-than-normal summer.

“It’s pretty unusual now to have a summer that’s not above normal,” said Lenning.

Feeling out of the loop? We’ll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.

Lenning delivered his summer weather outlook during a weather workshop at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management (OEMC).

OEMC hosts the biannual workshop to gather city agencies and departments to discuss how they will prepare, respond to and recover from potential emergencies and weather-related disasters.

“AT OEMC, we always take extreme heat very seriously. It’s the one thing we talk about every single spring,” said Kaila Lariviere, the manager of emergency management services.

“We always talk about the 1995 heat wave because it was such a moniker for learning about how the city just saw a massive death toll.”

More than 700 people died over seven days in July of 1995. Seniors, the unhoused and socially isolated populations were most at-risk.

Chicago’s OEMC was established in 1995 before the deadly heat wave, but the tragedy catalyzed improvements to its systems and improved communication between departments, including the NWS.

“We are able to coordinate and communicate on a level we weren’t able to back in 1995,” said Lariviere.

After the 1995 tragedy, the NWS re-evaluated the thresholds that would trigger “heat headlines.”

“A heat advisory would be triggered for one day where it gets 105 degrees in the index. A heat warning could actually be for continued days of that level of heat,” said Lenning.

Last August, the NWS issued an excessive heat warning, activating Chicago’s emergency operation center and response plan.

“You see the billboards along the highway flashing emergency messages. You have an increase in utilization of 311, or our non-emergency line to do wellbeing checks,” said Lariviere.

“You have the Department of Family Support services, Chicago public libraries opening up cooling shelters. You see this huge push that wasn’t necessarily a coordinated move back in 1995 to the way it could have been.”

“It’s just this massive citywide effort that came as a direct result of learning from what happened in 1995.”

The public can sign up to receive emergency alert notifications through “Notify Chicago” or download OEMC’s app.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Verified by MonsterInsights