Climate toolkit: Program helps health officials plan for extreme weather events

Aug. 29, 2014 |

Wisconsin communities now have a valuable resource to confront the potential health effects of extreme weather events. A program developed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), called BRACE (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects), has released the first planning resource designed for health professionals to help Wisconsin’s local governments, public health agencies and the public prepare for and respond to extreme events exacerbated by climate change.

flooded cars
Extreme weather events like flooding are just one of the issues the Climate toolkits look into. (David Liebl photo)

The Climate and Extreme Weather Toolkit is a series of science-based manuals that focus on specific weather-related disasters such as extreme heat, flooding, and wildfires. These events become more probable as Wisconsin’s climate warms and infrastructure ages.

“Wisconsin residents and response agencies must be aware that weather extremes are likely to become the new normal going forward,” says Jeff Phillips, who manages DHS’s Climate and Health Effects Program.

The BRACE toolkit walks readers through disaster scenarios and helps guide preparedness strategies. It provides quick access to essential information, with an emphasis on public health, for five potential events: heat waves, floods, extreme winter weather, wildfire, and chemical release -- a hazard that can follow extreme weather events when infrastructure is damaged. Much of the science underpinning these toolkits was developed by researchers affiliated with the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI).

Additional topics in development include harmful algal blooms, drought, and windstorms and tornadoes.

Each manual, available in both print and electronic form, reviews relevant climate data and trends; outlines public health risks posed by these changes; and provides definitions, practical guidance and strategies, talking points, message maps, references and supplemental information to enable proactive planning.

Individual guidance documents within the manual are designed to allow partners to add their agency letterhead for quick and easy distribution of the guides when an event is imminent.

“By basing the need for the toolkit on projected climate shifts, we are providing science-based reasons to prepare for changes,” says Phillips. “Sharing this information with preparedness and response agencies, other partners and the public will make it easier to translate into long-term planning strategies to address adaptation and to build community resiliency.”

The BRACE program is supported by a four-year, $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It aims to connect atmospheric data and climate projections with public health impacts anticipated by DHS, researchers, and medical professionals throughout the state.

The Climate and Extreme Weather Toolkit, as well as other information related to BRACE, will be maintained and continue to evolve on the DHS Climate and Health website. Also available on the site is an executive summary of the Wisconsin Climate and Health Profile Report, which provides a summary of climate projections, an analysis of Wisconsin vulnerabilities and health outcomes, and a roadmap for future BRACE work.

“Climate change seems to be really large, world-wide, and very far away, maybe beyond our comprehension and somewhat overwhelming to think about,” says Phillips. “But the impacts from climate-related weather changes and patterns will be felt very locally and very personally. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to make behavioral changes both to reduce our impact on the climate, but also to understand and prepare for the environmental changes that we are already beginning to see.”