Articulating strategies to address heat resilience using spatial optimization and temporal analysis of utility assistance data of the Salvation Army Metro Phoenix

Qunshan Zhao, Chelsea Dickson, Jowan Thornton, Patricia Solís, Elizabeth A. Wentz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Long-term community resilience, which privileges a long-view look at chronic, slow-moving issues affecting communities, has begun to draw more attention from researchers and policymakers. In the Valley of the Sun, resilience to heat is both a necessity and a way of life. Solutions are ubiquitous but nevertheless still in demand over the long, hot summers in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. Residents heavily rely on air conditioning (AC) for relief from heat stress, illness, and to prevent indoor heat-related deaths. However, paying for the electricity to keep homes cool can be expensive and the electric bills can be cost prohibitive for many low-income individuals and families. Local government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and charitable organizations have programs that provide financial assistance for qualified applicants offering limited relief from electricity costs. To better understand the utility assistance landscape in the Phoenix metropolitan area as a contributor to heat resilience among vulnerable communities, we created a collaborative team of individuals from the university and the Salvation Army, one of the more than 80 organizations that provides emergency economic aid for low-income families to pay high-cost electricity bills, to articulate insights about systemic efficiencies and efficacies, from a data-informed perspective. We utilized exploratory data analysis and advanced spatial analytical methods with the Salvation Army, to build a shared understanding of knowledge gaps and verified hunches. Our collaborative research confirms that minority groups (African American and Native American) disproportionately require assistance. Meanwhile, 30% of the travel time and distance to intake interviews could be saved by switching from zip code-based assignment systems to address-based assignment systems. Budgeting across empirically identified temporal patterns of need could offer resilience benefits to the most vulnerable. As a result of this community research partnership, data from the Salvation Army reveals the character and dimension of critical challenges within the utility assistance system as a whole, informs both immediate solutions and builds a knowledge base for transforming future operations for the organization, while it shapes broader conversations across the community of service providers about heat resilience in both spatial and temporal terms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102241
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Community resilience
  • GIS
  • Heat vulnerability
  • Spatial optimization
  • The Salvation Army
  • Utility assistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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