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In Spain, Seville hopes naming heat waves can save lives

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Can a name save lives? The city of Seville in Spain is betting it can.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Yesterday, the mayor announced a new program - the world's first to give official names to severe heat waves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUAN ESPADAS: (Non-English language spoken).

MCCAMMON: Just like tropical storms and hurricanes, impending heat waves will be named and classified by severity.

SHAPIRO: The pilot project was developed in partnership with the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. The center's director, Kathy Baughman McLeod, says the goal is to help people understand the danger of extreme heat, which she calls a silent killer.

KATHY BAUGHMAN MCLEOD: It kills more people than 13 fires and floods combined, and people are not aware of it. We need the recognition and the brand and the media attention for heat waves, much like we have done for hurricanes.

SHAPIRO: The naming program will be linked with public health measures like opening cooling centers or reaching out to older people living alone.

MCCAMMON: Some climate and weather scientists have questioned the naming approach. They're concerned that if lots of different named weather events pop up, they'll just become background noise. Baughman McLeod says, we can't afford not to try.

BAUGHMAN MCLEOD: Whatever we're doing is not working. I mean, we had a thousand people die in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. So we have to do something different, and the warning systems we have don't work.

MCCAMMON: She hopes lessons learned in Seville can lead to similar programs around the world.

SHAPIRO: To choose the name, Seville will run a few different options by focus groups.

BAUGHMAN MCLEOD: Human names or flora and fauna or Greek letters.

SHAPIRO: The program is slated to roll out next year, so heat wave Ignacio or Iota or Oso may be headed to southern Spain soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.