Beat the heat


The Appalachian Online

Halie Hamilton

Maggie Sugg, a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, is working on a tool to predict heat related emergency department visits.

She was awarded a grant from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for $10,356 to continue her three years of research on the North Carolina Heat-Health Vulnerability Tool.

The NC HHVT is designed to predict whether emergency department visits will increase or decrease due to heat related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses are easily preventable through hydration or relocating to a cooler environment, so there is no reason to see so many in NC, Sugg said.

The NC HHVT can be found at and is available to everyone. Users can choose specific demographics on the website: a county, a model (rural or urban) and a date.

Sugg started working on this tool with her advisor as part of her dissertation at UNC Chapel Hill.

Charles E. Konrad, director of the Southeast Regional Climate Center, said Sugg worked with the Southeast Regional Climate Center while she was in graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and her research played a key role in developing the tool.

“My research found some interesting relationships, so we were hoping to make a tool that the general public could use to mitigate these illnesses,” Sugg said.

Konrad said this is by far the climate center’s largest and most successful informational tool.

A full team worked on the tool, with Sugg providing the models that predictions are based on.

“The idea is that local public health officials or emergency managers can look at this tool and see if they need to prepare for a heat event. Do they need to have more beds, more cooling shelters and do they need to have warnings for the general public,” Sugg said.

This tool is unique to North Carolina. Sugg said North Carolina has a unique emergency department dataset which allows the models to be created.

“I’m passionate about this tool because I like to see my research actually being used, making a difference somewhere and being applied,” Sugg said.

The website is still in its first iteration but there are plans to improve the formatting to make it more user friendly.

Sugg said the tool is mainly used by public health and emergency management officials and is more popular on the eastern side of the state because of the higher rate of heat illnesses.

Story by: Halie Hamilton, News Reporter