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One in Four Cooling Centers in Manhattan Closed During Heatwave

July 8, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck

During a heatwave in Manhattan there are very few places one can go to cool down, which is why the city offers access to cooling centers around the city for residents. A cooling center is usually a facility, such as a senior center or community center, where people may go to enjoy air-conditioned comfort during a heat emergency. 

However, a recent investigation by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who paid an unannounced visit to the cooling centers during the heatwave last week, found that one in four cooling centers in Manhattan were closed.

Brewer surveyed 53 sites and found that only 41 were open, with 12 closed. About 74% of the cooling centers lacked signage making it difficult for residents to identify, and 96% of sites lacked days and times of operation, which are essential because they vary per site. Most sites’ hours, about 68%, did not match the details available on the city’s cooling center finder.

“As New York City faces a warmer future, cooling centers are one of the tools the city uses to mitigate impacts to climate-vulnerable communities and it’s important that we get it right,” said Brewer. 

Brewer recommended that cooling centers have clear signage in multiple languages posted outside of the entrance, including hours of operation and days of the week during a forecasted heatwave, and that information should be uniform and consistent across all sites.

Brewer also recommended that the city confirm the status of staffing and cooling at each site in advance of each heatwave before the information is posted online and available by 311, and that funding should be provided for staffing support for sites to be open during evening hours on weekdays and over the weekend as needed. 

Some sites may need HVAC repairs or replacements, and Brewer recommended the city identify and quickly correct the problems, especially if these sites are located in neighborhoods without cooling center options.

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