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Arizona announces new statewide heat officer, plans for relief after record deaths in 2023

Arizona will establish its first statewide heat officer position. That’s one announcement from the state’s first-ever Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan, released Friday.

This summer, the Phoenix area had a record 55 days with high temperatures at or above 110 degrees. The relentless heat led to at least 579 deaths in Maricopa County — a record. Amid those deadly temperatures, Gov. Katie Hobbs in August issued an executive order requiring several state agencies to collaborate on heat relief.

Maren Mahoney, who directs the Governor’s Office of Resiliency told KJZZ the resulting Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan gives her confidence the state will be better prepared heading into this summer.

“I think there will be a new sense of urgency and understanding that extreme heat is a disaster,” Mahoney said. “I feel very confident that, over the long term, we will be able to decrease those heat impacts to human health.”

The new chief heat officer will work within the Arizona Department of Health Services. The department is expected to announce next week who will fill the role. The plan says the health department will also establish a new cooling center coordinator position to serve as a point-of-contact for nonprofits and other agencies that operate cooling sites across the state.

The plan also says the state will set up at least six new mobile cooling centers built out of shipping containers. It says the Department of Administration is also working to identify state-owned sites that may be used as cooling centers and has established a new policy allowing state government employees to be paid to staff cooling centers. In addition, the Department of Housing will fund additional overnight heat respite sites in the Phoenix area.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct that Arizona's chief heat officer would not be the first in the country. While Arizona is the first to create a position with the title chief heat officer, California created a similar program manager role in 2023. 

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.