How Local Municipalities and Cities Can Prepare for Extremely Cold Weather

Heat waves and cold fronts are becoming increasingly more extreme across the globe. In 2022, areas throughout the world experienced some of their highest temperatures and driest seasons to date, breaking more records than ever before.

According to The Weather Channel, "As of May 4 [2022], the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean water was 1.2 degrees Celsius cooler than average"

Given the recent record-breaking temperatures, it is looking like extreme weather events and temperatures will continue to worsen. The issue does not only pertain to the severity of cold days, but all areas of weather and climate-related events, including extreme heat, the frequency of fighting wildfires and other natural disasters.

The Importance of Warming

“The National Climate Assessment estimates 20-30 more days over 90 degrees F in most areas by mid-century. A recent study projects that the annual number of days with a heat index above 100 degrees F will double, and days with a heat index above 105 degrees F will triple, nationwide, when compared to the end of the 20th century,” explains the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Experts predict that heat waves will only continue to worsen in coming years, making it crucial for local governments to begin preparing now to help protect their residents. On the same note, unusual extreme cold will hit communities and surprise those who are unprepared. One of the best tactics municipalities can take in preparing for future heat waves and cold fronts is investing in rapidly deployable cooling and warming centers.

What Are Cooling and Warming Centers?

Cooling centers are public, air-conditioned spaces that local authorities put in place to prevent adverse health effects (such as hyperthermia) brought on by heat waves, humidity, or even poor air quality.

Similarly, warming centers are public, heated spaces that operate when temperatures significantly drop, or when a combination of wind chill, wind, precipitation, and temperature becomes dangerous and threatens injury or death.

Cooling and warming centers are especially helpful at keeping people without homes safe from the elements and are sometimes vital for those who don’t have heating, air conditioning, or general protection from the elements. For example, many cities in temperate climates don’t have air conditioners furnished in their homes. While this isn’t a problem throughout most of the year, that changes drastically during heat waves.

Unprepared Communities

Seattle, Washington is the least air-conditioned metropolitan area in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Housing Survey, as of 2015, only one in every three housing units in the greater area of Seattle have central air or an air conditioning room unit. That translates to 33.7%, compared to the national average of 89%.

So when the most recent heat wave fell upon the city in June of 2021, with temperatures spiking up to a high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, many dwellers were understandably at risk.

High solar loads, excessive heat, wind chill, below freezing temperatures, and more are often life-threatening. It’s important to provide disadvantaged community members with the resources they need to stay sheltered and cool.

How Your City Can Prepare With Cooling and Warming Centers

Governments should consider how many cooling and warming centers are needed in a municipality based on the overall population, homeless numbers, general climate, and demographics of the city.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Does the city have an especially large number of apartment dwellers?
  • What are the homeless population rates?
  • Are there disproportionately large numbers of seniors and children in the area?

Older and younger individuals typically have a harder time with regulating body temperature, making them more at risk for hypo- and- hyperthermia than young to middle-aged adults.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aren’t able to regulate their body temperatures as well as adults, which can lead to serious health crises when exposed to extreme temperatures. And elderly adults have an equally hard time functioning in extreme weather since their bodies’ ability to dissipate heat through skin blood flow and sweating, as well as their ability to generate enough body heat to stay warm in inclement weather, dissipates with age.

Having cooling and warming centers on hand that are ready for immediate use will prevent illness and potential death.

[Related: How Fabric Structures for Disaster Recovery Shape Your Community’s Response]

Fabric Buildings for Cooling and Warming Centers

While libraries, community centers, government-run senior centers, parks, and recreation sites are commonly used as cooling and warming centers, they have limited space and are not always ideally located.

Fabric buildings are a great alternative solution for cities that don’t want to use existing spaces, or for cities that need additional space.

For example, fabric buildings from Alaska Structures® are rapidly deployable, making them quick to assemble and install anywhere in the city if a heat wave, cold front, or other climate crisis strikes the area. Their low-cube packaging, relocatability, and redeployment allow for easy storage or repurposing throughout the rest of the year.

Alaska Structures’ tensioned fabric membranes have the ability to block UV rays and high solar loads and support high wind and snow loads. They can also be insulated and heated or cooled to create a comfortable and safe interior environment during extreme cold and hot temperatures.

Here are some of Alaska Structures' more popular fabric building and product options to create a cooling or warming center.

[Related: Advantages of Fabric Buildings Over Traditional Structures]

XPL Series

Our XPL Series™ is a quick-erect fabric structure that can be fully installed in 10 minutes. While this structure is our fastest option to assemble when time is of the essence, it also offers notable durability and strength in its ability to withstand extreme temperatures.

The XPL Series is based off of a traditional quonset design that has been transformed into an emergency response shelter and can be easily assembled, installed, and transported if locations need to change.

The structure comes in four standard widths and any length, with an interior space of 150 to 800 square feet to accommodate numerous community members. It can also include net vent windows, hard doors, insulation liners, carry bags, lighting, and electrical components to support our portable, military-grade HVAC systems.

Consider stocking your cooling or warming center with heavy-duty Alaska rotomold containers. They’re meant for transporting fabric structures into a low-cube package, making our structures some of the most deployable on the market.

Plug-and-Play Lighting and Electrical Systems

All fabric building systems from Alaska Structures have the ability to utilize our time-saving  plug-and-play lighting and electrical systems that can easily connect to a local power source or a generator. This is especially important since electric grids and general power supplies in cities are often at risk of outages when temperatures get too high or low.

Insulation Packages

Insulation packages are useful as added protection to maintain comfortable conditions in your cooling or warming center. Our insulation packages are available in any R-level of thermal resistance, helping to maintain your desired internal temperature.

Portable, Military-Grade HVAC Systems

Our mil-spec HVAC system features both heating and air conditioning functions that are specifically engineered to work in extreme weather. The compact size and portability allow them to be easily deployed with the Alaska XPL to rapidly maintain comfortable and life-saving interior temperatures during extreme weather.

Additionally, our military-grade HVAC units can be equipped with HEPA and germicidal filtration units to not only regulate interior temperatures, but also filter dust, dirt, airborne particulates, and chemicals from the air.

[Related: Pros and Cons of Fabric Buildings]

Contact Alaska Structures for Your City’s Warming Center Needs

Cooling and warming centers are the ideal solution when temperatures become dangerously hot or cold. Keep your community safe from inclement weather by investing in Alaska Structures’ portable fabric structures.

For more information about Alaska Structures, or to obtain a fabric structure for your cooling or warming center, email us or fill out the online form on our contact page.

Featured image credit: Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

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