Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The City of Richmond Offers Citizens Relief from Excessive Heat with Cooling Stations

Listen to the full audio here.

This summer the City of Richmond has activated cooling shelters when the temperature or heat index reached or exceeded 95 degrees. There are three locations, each open to the public, that serve as cooling stations: the Department of Social Services located at 900 East Marshall Street, 701 North 25th Street at the East District Center, and the Southside Community Services Center at 4100 Hull Street Road.

WRIR LP 97.3 FM Local News Team visited both the Marshall Street and Hull Street Road locations to observe and interview Richmonders at the cooling shelters.

One citizen commented she didn’t know the site had been allocated as such until her arrival.

“I actually had a meeting at three o’clock, and the sign said cooling station, so I picked up some water, and that was it,” she said.

She said with the weather being so hot she attempted to beat the heat by drinking lots of water and staying in shaded areas when faced with spending time outdoors.

Another Individual said he knew the location had been designated as a place for people to go on hot days, and he watched many come inside for water.

“Well very frequently, I would say every five, ten, minutes,” he said. “Even as I travel to and from the building, I observe people benefiting from it, and people appreciate it.”

Jean Karppinen with the Family Preservation Team C at the Southside Community Center said she was aware the building served as a cooling shelter for both customers and citizens during regular business hours when the temperature reached a certain point.

“What I like to do is I like to take a little squirt bottle, just with water, and spray myself down,” she said. “That keeps me cool.”

Josephine Myers Deputy Director for the Department of Social Services for the City of Richmond said cooling sites offer the general public cool water and air conditioning relief during the hottest part of the day.

“We activate if there is an excessive heat advisory or a warning that’s been issued by the National Weather Service,” she said. “If the heat index is expected to exceed 95 degrees, or the temperature expected to exceed 95 degrees we would generally activate a cooling shelter.”

She said the city-wide cooling shelters have been providing these services for many years.

“It was put together by our staff here at the Department of Social Services, we started this in 2006 and it was the idea of our then Director of Social Services,” she said. “I function as the shelter manager for the department when we have a need to open disaster shelters, so this task was given to me, to come up with a process of the protocol.”

Myers said a branch of the Fire Department operates as the Department of Emergency Management.

“We generally have citizens classes, we have a team of volunteers that come in and we give them a disaster kit and we talk about cold weather, hot weather, that kind of thing, and of course when we activate our shelters we do a press release, and we give some tips in terms of what folks need to bring if they come, what’s provided,” she said. “We do a lot of marketing once we are activating.”

She said the Department of Social Services is currently working on collaborating with non-profit organizations in the community in hopes of increasing the amount of cooling stations as well as expanding the services offered.

“On weekends when we activate shelters, we’re only activated from twelve noon to five, so we’re trying to partner with some community organizations so that we can take advantage of their facilities so that we can extend the hours, maybe starting at nine, or eight o’clock in the morning, and maybe expanding all the way up until eight or nine at night,” she said. “Generally when the temperature exceeds 95, and we’ve been recently getting temperatures as high as 100, 107, it extends into the evening hours.”

The City of Richmond has issued several press releases urging citizens to stay hydrated and avoid prolonged exposure to the heat during daylight hours and reminded in the event of a heat related emergency, please call 9-1-1.

-Sarah A. Freiseis

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