The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has awarded $10,356 to Dr. Margaret Sugg, a professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Geography and Planning. The award is for continued research into the development of her North Carolina Heat-Health Vulnerability Tool (NC HHVT).
The NC HHVT is a website that uses historical models of emergency department visits from 120 counties in North Carolina due to heat illness and forecasts current conditions and risks based on those models. The website allows the user to choose a county, a model – rural, urban or mountains – and a valid forecast date. Once these factors are entered, the NC HHVT predicts the possible heat risks for that day, as well as the probability of emergency department visits due to heat illness. The tool is “a new way to promote caution,” Sugg said.
Sugg, a native of Asheville, began developing the NC HHVT while working on her doctoral dissertation at UNC Chapel Hill. She also uses National Weather Service data as part of the diagnostic tools for the NC HHVT. “This is Version 1.0,” she said. The goal is to make it more practical so community members can actually use it.
Heat illness can result in heat exhaustion and fainting, as well as cardio and respiratory problems. During particularly humid weather, the body’s ability to cool itself diminishes.
Sugg found that the relationship between heat illness and the environment is actually the opposite in Boone of what is normally considered the dangers and victims of dangerously high temperatures. Whereas the at-risk population in urban areas such as Chicago and New York traditionally seems to be the elderly, it is young people who are at risk in the High Country. One speculation is that college students in the area are more outdoor oriented, and, therefore, more susceptible to heat illness.
Sugg hopes the NC HHVT will diminish the dangerous risks of heat illness, no matter the age or environment.