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A cooling center is a facility open to members of the public where people can come in and cool off during hot weather. Cooling centers are very important in hot, humid communities where there is a risk of heat stroke in severe weather, especially when older and disabled citizens are present, as they are less able to adapt to the heat. In the event of power outages, cooling centers can become the only comfortable space for individuals who cannot maintain safe conditions at home.
The cooling center is usually a public building repurposed for this use, as it operates only when necessary and does not need to be a dedicated environment. Community centers, libraries, gymnasiums, and other large buildings with capacity for big groups are suitable for use as cooling centers. The center uses built-in air conditioning to keep temperatures cool and may supplement with fans to maintain air circulation and keep everyone comfortable.
Some communities may create mobile cooling centers with the use of trailers, to make sure that individuals who cannot access public transit or cooling centers in more remote areas will still be able to cool down in the heat. Even half an hour of cool down can make a significant difference when temperatures are climbing. The cooling center may have chairs, couches, and tables for relaxation, and some have games, magazines, and other entertainment to give occupants something to do while they cool down. Fresh cool water is also available.
In the heat, even minimal activity can put people at risk of heatstroke. Citizens may be advised to stay inside if possible, and to avoid traveling during the heat of the day. For residents vulnerable to heat stroke and families living in areas where the power has gone out, moving to a cooling center can be recommended. Some have medical staffs to provide first aid, in the event that someone enters with early signs of heat stroke or other issues.
Residents of regions prone to heat waves should make a note of where the closest cooling center will be in hot weather. If one is not available and the community needs one, public officials should be alerted so they can make plans. Neighbors of older adults and people with significant mobility impairments may also want to consider checking in on their neighbors during extreme heat and cold to see if they need assistance, like a ride to a cooling center.