Heatwave events are on the rise in the UK and Europe, with a projected increase in frequency, intensity and persistence. Despite the escalating risk, responses and adaptation strategies are lagging behind, exacerbated by a lack of comprehensive understanding of heat-related risks and effective measures.

To address this gap in understanding, this paper analyses the UK’s response to the heatwaves of summer 2022 which claimed 3,000 lives. It is informed by stakeholders involved in the response. Overall, the findings emphasise the need for proactive and integrated approaches to heatwave preparedness, including both short-term emergency responses and long-term mitigation strategies.

Key points for decision-makers

  • This paper applies a combination of Forensic Disaster Analysis and Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM) to analyse the UK’s response to the heatwaves of summer 2022.
  • The authors interviewed 38 stakeholders from various sectors involved in the response to the heatwaves, developing cognitive maps to capture local knowledge and perceptions regarding the causes, impacts and actions taken before, during and afterwards.
  • The study identifies cascading effects of heatwaves and factors amplifying negative impacts, along with effective and missed mitigating measures.
  • Stakeholders identified primary impacts such as health issues, secondary hazards and disruption to transport, with further analysis revealing the interdependencies between these factors, resulting in cascading effects.
  • Socioeconomic vulnerability, inadequate building standards and behavioural factors like non-adaptive behaviour were identified as the most significant exacerbators of the heatwave impacts.
  • Stakeholders’ combined fuzzy cognitive maps indicated the importance of public messaging and awareness campaigns to improve heat risk communication and community engagement.
  • Effective mitigation measures, including forecasting and early-warning systems, were highlighted as important to the 2022 heatwave response, but gaps in public awareness and learning from past responses remain challenges for future preparedness.
  • Concerns were also raised about resource adequacy for prolonged heatwaves, particularly regarding building retrofitting and heat vulnerability assessments.
  • The study highlights important variations in perspectives, preferences and priorities, which have implications for heat adaptation policy design.
  • The findings contribute to enhancing understanding of heatwave risks and the actions that must be taken in preparation for future heatwaves in the UK, informing more robust and holistic policymaking for heat risk reduction.
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