Early heat warning system to help save lives in changing climate

A Griffith University-led three-year project to develop an early warning system in homes during extreme heat events has received more than $2 million in funding. 

The  EtHOs project, was awarded $2.35 million by global charitable foundation Wellcome to help limit the thousands of lives lost each year to heat stress. 

Led by Dr Shannon Rutherford, from the School of Medicine and Dentistry, EtHOs is a multidisciplinary research team within the Climate Action research group that includes experts in aged-care nursing, IT, human physiology, engineering, climate science, health economics and environmental epidemiology.  

Dr Shannon Rutherford, EtHOs project leader from the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Dr Rutherford said the team recognised that climate change would lead to more extreme and frequent heat episodes and said action must be taken to reduce the risk to older populations who were more vulnerable to heat stress. 

“We want to develop an individualised early warning system for older people living at home specific to their home environment and considering different people may be vulnerable to heat for different reasons, and we all have different needs for and levels of access to cooling options,” Dr Rutherford said. 

We would like older people living at home and in the community to have access to a system that helps them, their families and care systems feel safe and confident in their homes as the world experiences more frequent and more intense heat events. 

EtHOs co-researcher Sarah Smith said the heat stress early warning system’s appearance and how users interacted with it would depend on the perspectives of the project’s users and project partners 

The benefit of co-design is that we’ve engaged early with people who are the focus of our system and their experiences will assist us in developing the system,” Ms Smith said 

Dr Sebastian Binnewies, from the Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems, will oversee the software development, testing and integration process. 

Dr Aaron Bach, from Cities Research Institute will lead the development of the in-home monitoring system and the heat-health algorithm used to identify risk profiles. 

Wellcome is a politically and financially independent global charitable foundation that supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing the world. It supports discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, focusing on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and climate. 

“We will work with our older personstheir in-home carers and our partner organisations to identify what issues are important to them in responding to heat in the home,” Dr Rutherford said. 

“By involving older people and existing systems of care early, we can identify the issues and co-design solutions together.”