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Assessing Accessibility of Cooling Centers to Vulnerable Populations in New York State

Posted By Seema Nayak, Friday, September 02, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) works with local health departments and county emergency preparedness management staff to track cooling center locations where people can go to cool down during periods of extreme heat (https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/weather/cooling/index.htm). NYSDOH staff also map cooling center locations to determine their adequacy and accessibility across New York State (excluding New York City).

While cooling centers are located throughout the state, accessibility to these facilities is important. To be accessible to people without their own means of transportation, cooling centers should be within walking distance (defined as half a mile in this project) or be accessible via public transportation. This may not be a concern in urban areas, but in the smaller towns and rural areas, access to these facilities by public transportation may be limited.

We assessed the accessibility of cooling centers by calculating their proximity to general and vulnerable populations and proximity to public transportation stops (bus/ferry/train). Vulnerable populations were identified from a heat-vulnerability index previously developed by the NYSDOH using 2010 US Census Bureau and 2011 National Land Cover Data. The index helped us identify 984 census tracts as moderately to highly vulnerable to heat. We used population-weighted centroids to calculate distance from general and vulnerable populations. We defined accessibility via public transportation by distance of less than 0.5 miles between cooling center and nearest public transportation stop in five metropolitan areas of New York State.

We found that, although the majority of cooling centers were primarily located in urban areas, less than 10% of the New York State general population, and only about one-fourth of the population in vulnerable census tracts, were within walking distance of a cooling center (Figure 1). However, accessibility improved greatly due to public transportation, with over 80% of the cooling centers located within one half mile of a public transportation stop (Figure 2).

Over the past three years there has been an increase in the number of counties with cooling centers as well as an increase in the total number of cooling centers overall. The Health Department plans to perform periodic assessments of cooling centers to help local agencies allocate adaptation resources, especially in areas identified as vulnerable.


Figure 1. Distance between census tracts and closest cooling center. Click on the picture to zoom.

 


Figure 2. Vulnerable tracts, cooling centers and transportation stops in the metropolitan areas. Click on the picture to zoom.

 
Seema Nayak, MPH (in picture), and Syni-An Hwang MS, PhD are Research Scientists at the New York State Department of Health; Shao Lin is a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Science at SUNY Albany and Zev Ross is a spatial analyst at ZevRoss Spatial Analysis, Ithaca NY and consultant for the project.
 

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