Extreme heat has killed hundreds of workers. And now the U.S. government is finally doing something about it.
For years the Federal Emergency Management Agency has offered temporary trailers to federal workers and others who end up trapped in homes or workplaces when it’s too hot to work.
Some workers have used these trailers to keep cool, but not many have.
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., has been a vocal critic of the trailers. He’s held a dozen hearings and nearly 40 votes to improve FEMA’s management of the trailers, which FEMA has leased to emergency responders in 90 different counties across the country.
“Temporary housing provides comfort and a space where people can put their lives back together,” Davis told me. “FEMA’s inability to provide the inhumane services that are required to people of that need has become public policy as extreme temperatures have made getting to work and the job site dangerous.”
As FOX4’s Mark Roper reported in January, Americans from Arizona to Utah to Texas have used trailer-style tents to keep out the heat. They’ve been so successful, FEMA has ordered 70,000 additional trailers.
Congress requires FEMA to give priority to domestic displaced from natural disasters. But the network of local government and community-based relief agencies has made it clear to FEMA that it doesn’t matter how many trailers FEMA buys because workers simply don’t have access to cool air or running water.
“At the recent hearing I called where all of those people who had been homeless, all of them offered shelter in trailers. And that’s where they stayed for three or four weeks,” Davis said. “And you talk to them, it’s very demoralizing, to be stuck in a trailer without air conditioners, without a place to go and watch television.”
I’ll let Mark unpack the congressional briefing.
“I just want to point out and show you that people complain about the heat. You know, a cold day in Chicago and in Iowa, with wind chill, it might feel like 46, 47 degrees. While these weather patterns are absolutely upsetting, they’re not unprecedented. We’ve had much higher temperatures in Iowa, for example, than it is here in Kansas,” Mark said.
“But something important does happen in summer, and that’s heat stroke,” Davis said. “People who use air conditioning just don’t care. It’s bad enough that they are homeless and spending their days outdoors all day. People who are working 24, even 30, 12 hours a day in an office, or working overnight in a hospital have no idea of how to react to extreme heat and humidity.”
“As a scientist, you realize that almost invariably, when people and animals and all of us are cooked by the heat, it’s heat stroke,” Davis said. “Heat stroke is a seizure on your brain that changes you and you become petrified for whatever reason. Then you can’t continue to function. That’s it. That’s the end of a human being.
The FEMA-sponsored trailers that Davis has been fighting for may be in jeopardy. A bill with 58 co-sponsors, sponsored by Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Leonard Lance of New Jersey, would re-direct a portion of FEMA’s surplus, which covers 80 percent of the agency’s fleet, to fly-in temporary shelters for distressed workers.
Even as it looks to strengthen the trailers’ environmental capacity, FEMA continues to take heat for the agency’s shortcomings.
“I’m not a federal bureaucrat, but the General Accountability Office issued a scathing report, not only did FEMA make multiple errors, but then it took the taxpayers’ money and don’t bring it back until you can figure out how you messed it up,” Davis said. “That’s what I wanted from FEMA.”
Davis says FEMA could be refunding that money to those now living in trailers, taking lessons learned from the experience and come up with a permanent solution that protects workers and the public.