Environmental risks are one of the many factors that influence community health. Climate change is increasing the intensity and duration of weather-related disasters, which occur alongside other natural threats such as earthquakes. All communities have some level of risk, and understanding those risks is important.
Having an awareness of environmental risks in your community and being prepared for natural disasters or other weather-related events can assist with recovery and rebuilding. It can also help programs serving children and families to anticipate needs, as some individuals in communities may be disproportionately impacted when events occur.
We recommend starting with a trusted resource when considering data on climate change and natural disasters. Consider the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) State Climate Summaries which provide information about past and future climate trends.
Using Colorado’s State Climate Summary as an example, we learn that temperatures have risen in the state in all four seasons and unprecedented warming is expected to continue. Warming is also expected to worsen recent trends in reduced water availability, and the intensity of droughts is expected to increase alongside the intensity and frequency of wildfires.
From there, you can hone in on areas of interest, such as wildfires. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Wildfire Risk to Communities Tool allows you to drill down to state, county, and local data on risk to homes from wildfires. In Colorado, homes in populated areas have a 74% greater risk of wildfire than other states in the US. In the example below, the Wildfire Risk to Communities Tool was used to map Larimer County, Colorado, showing a more local view of risk. Darker shades of red indicate the greatest risk to homes.
For programs serving children and families, it’s also important to understand how individuals with lower incomes are uniquely impacted by natural disasters. For example, they might have less access to technology which could alert them to impending emergencies (e.g., approaching wildfire). Evacuating when emergencies occur can also pose challenges such as the cost of missed work, transportation, and temporary housing. And, also of note, minorities face disproportionate risk from wildfires, particularly Native American and Hispanic individuals.
Emergency preparedness is another important part of the conversation about a community’s environmental risks – and responding to community needs when weather-related events and natural disasters take place. Due to climate change, and resulting increases in temperatures and droughts – as noted in the Colorado example – threats from natural disasters are evolving. Typical seasons for wildfire, for example, now extend year-round.
Data is an important tool for preparing for and responding to children and families’ needs. If your program needs assistance conducting a community assessment, including a focus on environmental health risks in your area, please reach out. We would be glad to talk with you and learn more about your program’s needs.
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