, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 3-15
Date: 22 Sep 2006

A survey of public perception and response to heat warnings across four North American cities: an evaluation of municipal effectiveness

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Abstract

To examine the efficacy of municipal heat watch warning systems, a thorough evaluation of the heat mitigation plans of four North American cities - Dayton (Ohio, USA), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), Phoenix (Arizona, USA), and Toronto (Ontario, Canada) - was undertaken. In concert with this evaluation was a survey of residents in the metropolitan areas of these cities that gauged their perception of their own vulnerability to the heat, as well as their knowledge of heat warnings and the activities recommended to be undertaken to help mitigate the effects of the heat. In total, 908 respondents participated in the telephone survey. Some of the key results indicate that knowledge of the heat warning was nearly universal (90%), and likely due to pervasive media coverage more than any other means. Though knowledge of the event was widespread, knowledge of what to do was less common. Only around half of all respondents mentioned that they changed their behavior, and despite the diversity of information available on mitigating heat vulnerability, most respondents stated that they merely “avoided the outdoors” at all costs. Though air conditioning was nearly ubiquitous among respondents, over a third mentioned that economic factors of energy costs were considered in terms of how long or whether the air conditioner was turned on.