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Building a Resilient Neighborhood prepares communities for heat emergencies, one neighbor at a time

Grassroots community organization readies community for blackouts caused by increasing heat
Posted at 6:20 PM, Apr 09, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — According to TEP, electricity use have risen 5% since 2019, partly due to increasing summertime heat. Utilities like TEP have warned that this increased demand could cause blackouts across Arizona in the years ahead.

In Tucson, a group of community members have made it their mission to prepare the city for the moment when the lights go out.

Building a Resilient Neighborhood is a grassroots organization with the goal of helping communities ready themselves for future heat emergencies.

The group doesn’t have leaders or a hierarchy but is composed of community members concerned about what a hotter future could bring.

BaRN began its mission in 2013 when the members all attended a conference led by Barbara Warren of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

At the conference, Dr. Eric Klinenberg delivered a presentation about a Chicago heat emergency occurring in 2005. The incident resulted in 700 deaths, but Klinenberg found that communities who knew their neighbors experienced lower amounts of death.

The presentation sparked a realization for Gladys Richardson, now a member of BaRN.

Gladys had grown up in a small Massachusetts town where neighbors looked out for one another.

“When there was a problem and they were struggling, you knew what you could do to be helpful,” she says. “I mean, it was just natural.”

Gladys had also seen how a tight-knit community can enhance people’s lives, along with preparing themselves for emergencies. In Concord, New Hampshire, she became familiar with a group that banded together to help each other in the event of a blackout from snow. Now she looked to do the same for heat in Tucson.

At the conference, Gladys was done with idle talk and demanded that something needed to be done. She refused to leave the room until someone would join her. Fortunately, she had some company.

She was joined by Stuart Moody and Margo Newhouse, among others, people who were also woken up by Klinenberg’s talk.

With Tucson being a sprawling city with no shortage of walls and fences, neighbors often go years without meeting one another. This is the problem they sought to fix.

The group travels around Tucson, visiting neighborhood meetings, HOAs, churches and anyone that will have them. They deliver workshops and literature, including a checklist to prepare neighborhoods for blackouts and other heat emergencies. Tips include stocking up on water, battery-operated radios and solar-powered phone chargers.

It also advises community members to keep in touch with their neighbors, which turned out to be the most practical, and invaluable, advice.

“In the workshop, we encourage people to get to know their neighbors,” says Newhouse. “Because we realized that’s what they’ll need is to look out for each other.”

For members of BaRN, climate change isn't coming—it’s already here. Tey say this isn’t an occasion for defeat, but rather an opportunity to build a stronger community across Tucson.

“You wouldn’t even recognize this city in terms of the vitality and people finding themselves and having hope and a future,” Gladys says. “People will feel like they’re making a contribution but they’re getting a whole lot back too.”

Moving forward, BaRN hopes to connect with more city leaders and organizations to impact more communities across Tucson. People of any age can join the group or request a workshop by emailing gladys.richardson@gmail.com.