What Exactly Is A Cooling Center?

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A senior center at 155 E 22nd St doubles as a cooling center.

Photo by: Lauren Raheja

A senior center at 155 E 22nd St doubles as a cooling center.

With temperatures reaching record highs in New York this July, the Office of Emergency Management has opened “cooling centers” that offer residents of all five boroughs respite from the heat. “This is part of our heat activation plan,” said Seth Andrews of OEM.

When the heat index is at 95 degrees for two consecutive days or 100 degrees for one day, pre-existing locations such as senior centers, libraries, New York Housing Authority buildings, and Salvation Army branches are adopted into the city’s cooling center program, which means that they are listed on the OEM website as air conditioned spaces where people can go to take shelter from excruciating temperatures.

Officials at these locations are encouraged to be in communication with OEM about power failures or last minute closings to prevent overheated New Yorkers from venturing out onto the muggy streets without proper direction.

Andrews say it’s hard to gauge the extent to which these spaces are being used as cooling centers, since most of them are already-utilized sites, but the city has been actively promoting their availability through the nyc.gov website, the New York Public Library website and its Twitter and Facebook pages, and through Notify NYC — a service that provides New Yorkers with text messages, phone calls, or emails about information and events in their neighborhoods.

Connie Duver, director of the Community Lounge Senior Center at East 22nd Street, which offers a lunch program, exercise classes, and educational programs for senior citizens and is now one of the city’s cooling centers, says that it has expanded its hours (from closing at 4:00 pm to closing at 7:00 pm) and stayed opened on Monday as a cooling center, when there were no regularly scheduled Senior Center activities due to the holiday. “There was a man who came in and wanted to sit down, and just put his head down,” said Duver.

“It’s too hot to work,” declared Anna Rozenblat outside the Epiphany Library on East 23rd Street, another designated cooling center. “I’m a freelance photographer and I have to post-edit my own photos, but I don’t have an office. So the library is a great option.”

Others, though, were at the library only to read, and would be there with or without the heat.

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