Advertisement

Arizona is first US state to get a chief heat officer

After record heatwaves in 2023, Arizona has become the first US state to hire a heat officer to make sure residents are kept safe when high temperatures hit once again.

Eugene Livar, who has worked at the state’s Department of Health Services since 2012, is taking on a role only previously seen in individual cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The Chief Heat Officer was announced as part of Arizona’s Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan, intended to address concerns around health, energy and shelter as the region anticipates hotter weather in the years to come.

“What I heard time and again, from everyday Arizonans was that our state’s old approach was not enough,” Governor Katie Hobbs said in a statement. “As a social worker who has dedicated my life to protecting everyday people, I knew we had to take action.

“Arizona is no stranger to the heat, yet we have always risen to the challenge, protected our neighbours, and built a sustainable and thriving state. This time will be no different.”

In 2023, Arizona experienced some of its hottest temperatures on record. In July, heat-sensitive cameras showed concrete on the street registering 150F (66C), outdoor workers’ bodies reached 105F (41C) and homeless people sweltered, surrounded by surfaces as hot as 143F (62C).

Over 500 people died in Maricopa County alone, while emergency rooms recorded more than 4,000 heat-related visits. Cooling centres saw over 26,000 visits during the hottest periods.

“It’s critical that Arizona build a sustainable and resilient state,” Governor’s Office of Resiliency director Maren Mahoney added.

Part of that work will include widening the cooling centre network ahead of summer 2024, with extra funding for “extreme weather shelters” across the state.

It’s hoped that Mr Livar’s appointment will help to ensure a fair distribution of resources across urban and rural areas.

“We know that this is going to be a continuous cycle that we’re going to see across the state and so what can we do to be better prepared for that going forward?” Mr Livar told ABC 13.

He said his team will look to bring in moveable resources that can be deployed where needed and they will seek to improve communications with communities following criticism about last summer’s response.

The governor’s plan also includes bids for funding to improve the power and gas networks, to better cope during extreme heat, as well as proposals to hire more specialised staff who can help build up Arizona’s resilience to these higher temperatures.