Improve Extreme Heat Monitoring by Launching Cross-Agency Temperature Network

Year after year, record-breaking air temperatures and heat waves are reported nationwide. In 2023, Death Valley, California experienced temperatures as high as 129°F — the highest recorded temperature on Earth for the month of June—and in July,  Southwest states experienced prolonged heat waves where temperatures did not drop below 90°F. This is especially worrisome as the frequency, intensity, and duration of rising temperatures are projected to increase, and the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States is heat. To address this growing threat, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should combine and leverage their existing resources to develop extreme-heat monitoring networks that can capture spatiotemporal trends of heat and protect communities from heat-related hazards. 

Urban areas are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect. However, UHIs are not uniform throughout a city, with some neighborhoods experiencing higher air temperatures than others. Further, communities with higher populations of Color and lower socioeconomic status disproportionately experience higher temperatures and are reported to have the highest increase in heat-related mortality. It is imperative for local government officials and city planners to understand who is most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat and how temperatures vary throughout a city to develop effective heat mitigation and response strategies. While the NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) stations provide hourly, standardized air measurements, their data do not capture intraurban variability.

Challenge and Opportunity

Heat has killed more than 11,000 Americans since 1979, yet an extreme heat monitoring network does not exist in the country. While NOAA NWS stations capture air temperatures at a central location within a city, they do not reveal how temperatures within a city vary. This missing information is necessary to create targeted, location-specific heat mitigation and response efforts.

Synergistic Environmental Hazards and Health Impacts

UHIs are metropolitan areas that experience higher temperatures than surrounding rural regions. The temperature differences can be attributed to many factors, including high impervious surface coverage, lack of vegetation and tree canopy, tall buildings, air pollution, and anthropogenic heat. UHIs are of significant concern as they contribute to higher daytime temperatures and reduce nighttime cooling, which in turn exacerbates heat-related deaths and illnesses in densely populated areas. Heat-related illnesses include heat exhaustion, cramps, edema, syncope, and stroke, among others. However, heat is not uniform throughout a city, and some neighborhoods experience warmer temperatures than others in part due to structural inequalities. Further, it has been found that, on average, People of Color and those living below the poverty line are disproportionately exposed to higher air temperatures and experience the highest increase in heat-related mortality. As temperatures continue to rise, it becomes more imperative for the federal government to protect vulnerable populations and communities from the impacts of extreme heat. This requires tools that can help guide heat mitigation strategies, such as the proposed interagency monitoring network. 

High air temperatures and extreme heat are also associated with poor air quality. As common pavement surfacing materials, like asphalt and concrete, absorb heat and energy from the sun during the day, the warm air at the surface rises with present air pollutants. High air temperatures and sunlight are also known to help catalyze the production of air pollutants such as ozone in the atmosphere and impact the movement of air and, therefore, the movement of air pollution. As a result, during extreme heat events, individuals are exposed to increased levels of harmful pollutants. Because poor air quality and extreme heat are directly related, the EPA should expand its air quality networks, which currently only detect pollutants and their sources, to include air temperature. Projections have determined extreme heat events and poor air quality days will increase due to climate change, with compounding detriments to human health

Furthermore, extreme heat is linked not only to poor air quality but also to wildfire smoke—and they are becoming increasingly concomitant. Projections report with very high confidence that warmer temperatures will lengthen the wildfire season and thus increase areas burned. Similar to extreme heat’s relationship with poor air quality, extreme heat and wildfire smoke have a synergistic effect in negatively impacting human health. Extreme heat and wildfire smoke can lead to cardiovascular and respiratory complications as well as dehydration and death. These climatic hazards have an even larger impact on environmental and human health when they occur together.

As the UHI effect is localized and its causes are well understood, urban cities are ideal locations to implement heat mitigation and adaptation strategies. To execute these plans equitably, it is critical to identify areas and communities that are most vulnerable and impacted by extreme heat events through an extreme heat monitoring network. The information collected from this network will also be valuable when planning strategies targeting poor air quality and wildfire smoke. The launch of an extreme heat monitoring network will have a considerable impact on protecting lives. 

Urban Heat Mapping Efforts

Both NOAA and EPA have existing programs that aim to map, reduce, or monitor UHIs throughout the country. These efforts may have the capacity to also implement the proposed heat monitoring network. 

Since 2017, NOAA has worked with the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) and CAPA Strategies LLC to fund yearly UHI mapping campaign programs, which has been instrumental in highlighting the uneven distribution of heat throughout U.S. cities. These programs rely on community science volunteers who attach NOAA-funded sensors to their cars to collect air temperature, humidity, and time data. These campaigns, however, are currently only run during summer months, and not all major cities are mapped each year. NOAA’s NIHHIS has also created a Heat Vulnerability Mapping Tool, which impressively illustrates the relationship between social vulnerability and heat exposure. These maps, however, are not updated in real-time and do not display air temperature data. Another critical tool in mapping UHIs is NWS recently created HeatRisk prototype, which identifies risks of heat-related impacts in numerous parts of the country. This prototype also forecasts levels of heat concerns up to seven days into the future. However, HeatRisk does not yet provide forecasts for the entire country and uses NWS air temperature products, which do not capture intraurban variability. The EPA has a Heat Island Reduction program dedicated to working with community groups and local officials to find opportunities to mitigate UHIs and adopt projects to build heat-resilient communities. While this program aims to reduce and monitor UHIs, there are no explicit monitoring or mapping strategies in place. 

While the products and services of each agency have been instrumental in mapping UHIs throughout the country and in heat communication and mitigation efforts, consistent and real-time monitoring is required to execute extreme heat response plans in a timely fashion. Merging the resources of both agencies would provide the necessary foundation to design and implement a nationwide extreme heat monitoring network.

Plan of Action

Heat mitigation strategies are often city-wide. However, there are significant differences in heat exposure between neighborhoods. To create effective heat adaptation and mitigation strategies, it is critical to understand how and where temperatures vary throughout a city. Achieving this requires a cross-agency extreme heat monitoring network between federal agencies. 

The EPA and NOAA should sign a memorandum of agreement to improve air temperature monitoring nationwide. Following this, agencies should collaborate to create an extreme heat monitoring network that can capture the intraurban variability of air temperatures in major cities throughout the country.

Implementation and continued success require a number of actions from the EPA and NOAA. 

  1. EPA should expand its Heat Island Reduction program to include monitoring urban heat. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provided the agency with $41.5 billion to fund new and existing programs, with $11 billion going toward clean air efforts. Currently, their noncompetitive and competitive air grants do not address extreme heat efforts. These funds could be used to place air temperature sensors in each census tract within cities to map real-time air temperatures with high spatial resolution.
  2. EPA should include air temperature monitoring in their monitoring deployments. Due to air quality tracking efforts mandated by the Clean Air Act, there are existing EPA air quality monitoring sites in cities throughout the country. Heat monitoring efforts could be tested by placing temperature sensors in the same locations.
  3. EPA and NOAA should help determine vulnerable communities most impacted by extreme heat. Utilizing EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping (EJScreen) Tool and NIHHIS’s Heat Vulnerability Mapping Tool, EPA and NOAA could determine where to place air temperature monitors, as the largest burden due to extreme heat tends to occur in neighborhoods with the lowest economic status.
  4. NOAA should develop additional air temperature sensors. NOAA’s summer UHI campaign programs highlight the agency’s ability to create sensors that capture temperature data. Given their expertise in capturing meteorological conditions, NOAA should develop national air temperature sensors that can withstand various weather conditions.
  5. NOAA should build data infrastructure capable of supporting real-time monitoring. Through NIHHIS, the data obtained from the monitoring network could be updated in real-time and be publicly available. This data could also merge with the current vulnerability mapping tool and HeatRisk to examine extreme heat impacts at finer spatial scales. 

Successful implementation of these recommendations would result in a wealth of air temperature data, making it possible to monitor extreme heat at the neighborhood level in cities throughout the United States. These data can serve as a foundation for developing extreme heat forecasting models, which would enable governing bodies to develop and execute response plans in a timely fashion. In addition, the publicly available data from these monitoring networks will allow local, state, and tribal officials, as well as academic and non-academic researchers, to better understand the disproportionate impacts of extreme heat. This insight can support the development of targeted, location-specific mitigation and response efforts.


As temperatures continue to rise in the United States, so do the risks of heat-related hazards, morbidity, and mortality. This is especially true for urban cities, where the effects of extreme heat are most prevalent. A cross-agency extreme-heat monitoring network can support the development of equitable heat mitigation and disaster preparedness efforts in major cities throughout the country.

This idea of merit originated from our Extreme Heat Ideas Challenge. Scientific and technical experts across disciplines worked with FAS to develop potential solutions in various realms: infrastructure and the built environment, workforce safety and development, public health, food security and resilience, emergency planning and response, and data indices. Review ideas to combat extreme heat here.

Frequently Asked Questions
How are urban heat islands formed?
Cities often have less vegetation and tree canopy cover than surrounding rural areas, which decreases cooling and evaporation. Tall buildings and ones that are close together reduce wind speed, trapping heat within a city. Buildings, as well as roads, streets, and sidewalks, are very good at absorbing and storing heat from the sun. Additionally, air pollution and heat from cars, buildings, and space heating absorb heat that is trying to escape from the city.
What is the difference between urban heat islands and heat waves?

Urban heat islands are urbanized regions experiencing higher temperatures compared to nearby rural areas. Heat waves—also known as extreme heat events—are persistent periods of unusually hot weather lasting more than two days. Research has found, however, that urban heat islands and heat waves have a synergistic relationship.

How many people die due to heat in the United States?

Nationwide, more than 1,300 annual deaths are estimated to be attributable to extreme heat. This number is likely an undercount, as medical records do not regularly include the impact of heat when describing the cause of death.

What can communities do to combat rising temperatures?
Cities can create more green spaces and plant more trees to increase evapotranspiration rates and provide shade. Installing cool or green roofs can reduce the amount of heat buildings store throughout the day. Altering roads, streets, or sidewalks with cool pavements may also reduce the amount of stored heat and provide less heat stress to pedestrians. Walking and biking instead of using an automobile, when possible, would reduce the amount of pollution introduced into the air, which could not only combat rising temperatures but also improve air quality.

Expand capacity and coordination to better integrate community data into environmental governance

Frontline communities bear the brunt of harms created by climate change and environmental pollution, but they also increasingly generate their own data, providing critical social and environmental context often not present in research or agency-collected data. However, community data collectors face many obstacles to integrating this data into federal systems: they must navigate complex local and federal policies within dense legal landscapes, and even when there is interest or demonstrated need, agencies and researchers may lack the capacity to find or integrate this data responsibly.

Federal research and regulatory agencies, as well as the White House, are increasingly supporting community-led environmental justice initiatives, presenting an opportunity to better integrate local and contextualized information into more effective and responsive environmental policy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should better integrate community data into environmental research and governance by building internal capacity for recognizing and applying such data, facilitating connections between data communities, and addressing misalignments with data standards.


Community science and monitoring are often overlooked yet vital facets of open science. Community science collaborations and their resulting data have led to historic environmental justice victories that underscore the importance of contextualized community-generated data in environmental problem-solving and evidence-informed policy-making. 

Momentum around integrating community-generated environmental data has been building at the federal level for the past decade. In 2016, the report “A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA,” produced by the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT), thoroughly diagnosed the need for a clear framework for moving community-generated environmental data and information into governance processes. Since then, EPA has developed additional participatory science resources, including a participatory science vision, policy guidelines, and equipment loan programs. More recently, in 2022, the EPA created an Equity Action Plan in alignment with their 2022–2026 Strategic Plan and established an Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR). And, in 2023, as a part of the cross-agency Year of Open Science, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Transform to Open Science (TOPS) program lists “broadening participation by historically excluded communities” as a requisite part of its strategic objectives. 

It is evident that the EPA and research funding agencies like NASA have a strategic and mission-driven interest in collaborating with communities bearing the brunt of environmental and climate injustice to unlock the potential of their data. It is also clear that current methods aren’t working. Communities that collect and use environmental data still must navigate disjointed reporting policies and data standards and face a dearth of resources on how to share data with relevant stakeholders within the federal government. There is a critical lack of capacity and coordination directed at cross-agency integration of community data and the infrastructure that could enable the use of this data in regulatory and policy-making processes. 


To build government capacity to integrate community-generated data into environmental governance, the EPA should:

To facilitate connections between communities generating data, the EPA should:

To address misaligned data standards, the EPA, in partnership with USDS and the OMB, should:

Community-generated data provides contextualized environmental information essential for evidence-based policy-making and regulation, which in turn reduces wasteful spending by designing effective programs. Moreover, healthcare costs will be reduced for the general public if better evidence is used to address pollution, and climate adaptation costs could be reduced if we can use more localized and granular data to address pressing environmental and climate issues now rather than in the future

Our recommendations call for the addition of at least 10 full-time employees for each regional EPA office. The additional positions proposed could fill existing vacancies in newly established offices like the OEJECR. Additional budgetary allocations can also be made to the EPA’s EN to support technical infrastructure alterations and grant-making.

While there is substantial momentum and attention on community environmental data, our proposed capacity stimulus can make existing EPA processes more effective at achieving their mission and supports rebuilding trust in agencies that are meant to serve the public.

To learn more about the importance of opening science and to read the rest of the published memos, visit the Open Science Policy sprint landing page.

The Missing Data for Systemic Improvements to U.S. Public School Facilities

Peter Drucker famously said, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” Data on facilities helps public schools to make equitable decisions, prevent environmental health risks, ensure regular maintenance, and conduct long-term planning. Publicly available data increases transparency and accountability, resulting in more informed decision making and quality analysis. Across the U.S., public schools lack the resources to track their facilities and operations, resulting in missed opportunities to ensure equitable access to high quality learning environments. As public schools face increasing challenges to infrastructure, such as climate change, this data gap becomes more pronounced.

Why do we need data on school facilities?

School facilities affect student health and learning. The conditions of a school building directly impact the health and learning outcomes of students. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of indoor air quality into the public consciousness. Many other chronic diseases are exacerbated by inadequate facilities, causing absenteeism and learning loss. From asthma to obesity to lead poisoning, the condition of the places where children spend their time impacts their health, wellbeing, and ability to learn. Better data on the physical environment helps us understand the conditions that hinder student learning

School buildings are a source of emissions and environmental impacts. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that schools annually spend $8 billion on energy, and emit an estimated 72 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. While the energy use intensity of school buildings is not itself that high when compared with other sectors, there are interesting trends such as education being the largest consumer of natural gas. The public school fleet is the largest mass transit system in the U.S. As of 2023 only 1-2% of the countries estimated nearly 500,000 buses are electric

Data provides accountability for public investment. After highways, elementary and secondary education infrastructure is the leading public capital outlay expenditure nationwide (2021 Census). Most funds to maintain school facilities come from local and state tax sources. Considering the sizable taxpayer investment, relatively little is known about the condition of these facilities. Some state governments have no school facilities staff or funding to help manage or improve school facilities. The 2021 State of Our Schools Report, the leading resource on school facilities data, uses fiscal data to highlight the issues in school facilities. This report found that there is a $85 billion annual school facilities infrastructure funding gap, meaning that, according to industry standards for both capital investment and maintenance, schools are funded $85 billion less than what is required for upkeep. Consistent with these findings, the U.S. Government Accountability Office conducted research on school building common facilities issues and found that, in 2020, 50% of districts needed to replace or update multiple essential building systems such as HVAC or plumbing. 

What data do we need?

Despite the clear connections between students’ health, learning, and the condition of school buildings, there are no standardized national data sets that assist school leaders and policy makers in making informed and strategic decisions to systematically improve facilities to support health and learning. 

Some examples of data points school facilities advocates want more of include:

Getting strategic and accessible with facilities data

Gathering this type of data represents a significant challenge for schools that are already overburdened and lack the administrative support for facilities maintenance and operations. By supporting the best available facilities research methods, facilities conditions standards, and dedicating resources to long term planning, we ensure that data collection is undertaken equitably. Some strategies that bear these challenges in mind are:

Incorporate facilities into existing data collection and increase data linkages in integrated and high quality data centers like National Center for Education Statistics. School leaders should provide key facilities metrics through the same mechanisms by which they report other education statistics. Creating data linkages allow users to make connections using existing data.    

Building capacity ensures that there are staff and support systems in place to effectively gather and process school facilities data. There are more federal funds than ever before offered for building the capacity of schools to improve facilities conditions. For instance, the U.S. Department of Education recently launched the Supporting America’s School Infrastructure grant program, aimed at developing the ability of state departments of education to address facilities matters.    

Research how school facilities are connected to environmental justice to better understand how resources could be most equitably distributed. Ten Strands and UndauntedK12 are piloting a framework which looks at pollution burden indicators and school adoption of environmental and climate action. We can support policies and fund research that looks at this intersection and makes these connections more transparent.

The connection between school facilities and student health and learning outcomes is clear. What we need now are the resources to effectively collect more data on school facilities that can be used by policy makers and school leaders to plan, improve learning conditions, and provide accountability to the public. 

The Federation of American Scientists values diversity of thought and believes that a range of perspectives — informed by evidence — is essential for discourse on scientific and societal issues. Contributors allow us to foster a broader and more inclusive conversation. We encourage constructive discussion around the topics we care about.

FAS Unveils 23 Actionable Recommendations for Improving Wildland Fire Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federation of American Scientists unveiled 23 actionable policy proposals developed by expert contributors. These recommendations were developed with the aim of contributing to a holistic, evidence-based approach to managing wildland fire in the United States and in response to the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission’s request for stakeholder input in its work to develop a report for Congress . 

In partnership with COMPASS, the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), and Conservation X Labs, FAS hosted a Wildland Fire Policy Accelerator to collect, refine, and amplify actionable, evidence-based ideas to improve how we live with fire. 

The recommendations cover issues across the wildland fire policy spectrum, falling into four categories: Landscapes and Communities, Public Health and Infrastructure, Science, Data, and Technology, and Workforce. Contributors come from academia, the private sector, and nonprofits and have expertise in public health, fire intelligence, forestry, cultural burning, and more. 

“The ideas we are presenting showcase how the development of evidence-based policy can be inclusive of more diverse expert input and lead to better results. We are eager to see the final recommendations the Commission ultimately relays to Congress, and how they respond” says FAS Director of Science Policy Erica Goldman.

“These are urgent issues that can only be solved through cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaborations. We’re grateful to be at the table and excited to see how these bold ideas can evolve and inform public policy across local and state governments,” says CCST Senior Science Officer Teresa Feo.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit policy research and advocacy organization founded in 1945 to meet national security challenges with evidence-based, scientifically-driven, and nonpartisan policy, analysis, and research. The organization works to advance progress on a broad suite of contemporary issues where science, technology, and innovation policy can deliver dramatic progress, and seeks to ensure that scientific and technical expertise have a seat at the policymaking table.

Building Trust In the Health Data Ecosystem


Pending bipartisan “Cures 2.0” legislation is intended to safely and efficiently modernize healthcare delivery in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Such modernization is contingent on access to high-quality data to power innovation and guided decision-making. Yet over 80% of Americans feel that the potential risks of companies collecting their data outweigh the benefits. To ensure the success of Cures 2.0, provisions must be added that bolster public trust in how health data are used.

Addressing the largely unregulated activities of data brokers — businesses that collect, sell, and/or license brokered personal information — offers a budget-neutral solution to the public’s crisis of faith in privacy. Building a well-governed health-data ecosystem that the public can trust is essential to improving healthcare in the United States.