Defining Extreme Heat as a Hazard: A Review of Current State Hazard Mitigation Plans

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Heat is the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States. Each US state must have a FEMA-approved state hazard mitigation plan (SHMP) to be eligible for certain non-emergency disaster funds and funding for mitigation projects. Many US states are in the process of updating their plans; however, a review of each SHMP as it exists now reveals the challenge states face in adequately incorporating heat as a hazard. This report assesses the treatment and definition of heat as a hazard in each state’s plan. Furthermore, it offers supplemental information for states in parallel with the latest FEMA guidance for SHMPs that went into effect April 19, 2023.

This analysis found that the importance of extreme heat is often understated in plans. Only 25 states had a dedicated section for extreme heat, with 18 having heat combined with cold or drought. Current FEMA guidelines for SHMPs would be strengthened by further modernization of existing risk identification processes. This is critical for extreme heat since it is rarely defined by discrete events and is instead chronic and subtle. The latest FEMA guidance is more specific in requiring climate change to be factored into hazard identification. However, current state plans do not adequately incorporate climate change when addressing extreme heat.

This report offers four specific recommendations that provide a roadmap for states to adequately assess the effects of extreme heat:

⋅ Defining heat as a hazard by combining climate and health outcome data ⋅ Accounting for the hazard-specific vulnerabilities of their population ⋅ Incorporating climate change ⋅ Developing appropriate and feasible mitigation strategies






Ward, Ashley, and Jordan Clark (2023). Defining Extreme Heat as a Hazard: A Review of Current State Hazard Mitigation Plans. Retrieved from



Ashley Ward

Area Director, Nicholas Institute for En

Ashley’s work focuses on the health impacts of climate extremes and community resilience. She directs the Heat Policy Innovation Hub at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability. In this role, Ashley brings together scientists and communities to develop and deploy innovative policy solutions that reduce the impacts of extreme heat on human health and well-being.

Ashley’s career has focused on engaging communities to identify and address issues related to climate change, and helping communities develop long-term, sustainable strategies relevant to their needs.

Ashley’s previous work with NOAA’s Carolinas Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) team connected rural and urban communities and policy-decision makers with relevant climate and health data, particularly related to vulnerabilities and impacts.  

Ashley has continued to bridge the gap between science, data, policy, and community at Duke’s Nicholas Institute. In this setting, she works with communities, public agencies, and policymakers to create and inform effective policy solutions to difficult environmental challenges.

Prior to launching the Heat Policy Innovation Hub, Ashley has worked on the Internet of Water (IoW) Coalition at the Nicholas Institute, helping public agencies modernize their water data infrastructure to better manage water resources. On the IoW team, Ashley has led stakeholder and policy engagement, pilot programs, and the development of the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) designed to guide public agencies through the organizational and behavioral changes needed to modernize their water data infrastructure.
Before her work with Duke and RISA, Ashley completed her PhD in geography and worked with communities throughout NC on a host of issues such as local food availability and asset-based economic development strategies. Ashley’s passion is building coalitions to advance scientific understanding and communicate information in a way that is relevant for use by decision-makers. Having worked in a broad range of communities with varying levels of capacity, Ashley is particularly thoughtful about meeting communities where they are and working from there to achieve community goals.

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