March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The Ingham County Health Department is seeking residents’ input on needs for cooling off during extreme heat without spiking energy demand

Wednesday, June 29 — The Ingham County Health Department is arming itself and its residents with more than cold water and a cool breeze to combat the hot summer.

Taking an active role in keeping its residents cool during the increasingly warmer weather, the department is launching its “Hot Weather and Health” project to keep the public informed on defeating the heat with an eye toward energy conservation, said Jessica Yorko, a Lansing City Councilwoman who is also environmental justice coordinator for the county Health Department.

“We must protect ourselves in the short-term by reducing health impacts due to the increasing number of extremely hot days,” she said. “We must also protect ourselves long-term by continuing to reduce our energy demands.”

With funding from the state Department of Community Health, six community partners — including the Allen Neighborhood Center and the Greater Lansing African American Health Institute — are conducting surveys at community events and are providing information about heat- related illnesses.

The survey asks residents how hot weather is affecting their utility and medical bills and other aspects of their lives. It also asks about what kind of household cooling devices they own and where they are likely to go to cool off.

The project also exposes residents to cooling options that don’t significantly increase energy demand and looks at establishing health systems conducive with climate change adaptation.

More warmer days aren’t directly caused by climate change, but increased energy demand, especially during hot and cold weather, is a pattern driving global climate change. Particularly hot days can’t be attributed to one factor, but due to climate change, a particular pattern of weather is to be expected, Tom Dietz, a professor of Sociology and Environmental Science and Policy at Michigan State University, said in an email.

“It's not really appropriate, in most cases, to say that climate change causes a couple of weeks of hot weather,” he said. “These runs of unusual weather give us a sense of what the climate will be like in the future, with good probability.”

The county’s emergency heat management planners will be taking note of survey results.

With 16 cooling centers in the county, one of the goals is to get the information out to the public, said Eldon Liggon, executive director of the GLAAHI.

“The main thing is if people do the survey, it will trigger other (needs in the community),” he said. “It would prompt other questions —do you have extra water on hand or is your water usable?”

The research gathered from the surveys will also help state and local agencies explore community cooling options, said Liggon.

“All the research that we gather might not be able to be used this summer,” he said. “It will definitely give us a head start into preparing for the heat next summer.”

Some Lansing residents, like Yvonne Young-McConnell, think the survey is a helpful tool in keeping the community informed of the health issues heat can cause. Young-McConnell took part in the survey.

“(The surveys) will make people more aware of the consequences, heat is an issue and this is helping,” she said. “Any time you can get information out there, it’s a good thing.”

Others, such as Ellen White, thought the survey was geared specifically toward senior citizens and low-income families.

“(The survey) pertained to senior citizens (or) to people that can’t get around,” she said. “When it’s hot, you know to bring water and to stay in the shade because it’s hot.”

Along with providing information to residents, the survey will be used as a way to publicize special promotions by organizations like Michigan Energy Options, which offers free home energy assessments to qualified individuals in the city of Lansing until Thursday. Other promotions offer vehicle fee waivers to county parks for families.

The surveys will continue throughout the summer until Aug. 15 at community events. For more information, call 517-272-4144.