Extreme heat emergency alerts can save lives, but cannot be the only action taken
Experts say sending emergency alerts during extreme heat events could save lives, but a multi-faceted approach to warning the public is needed to reach and help the most vulnerable residents. Act.
Many Ontarians received an emergency alert on their cellphones in mid-May advising them to take shelter as a deadly storm swept through the province, but experts say such alerts can also be used for major heat events, including those lasting several days – such as the one currently unfolding in Ontario.
Blair Feltmate, director of the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said more extreme heat events are on the horizon due to climate change, pointing to a recent report he co-authored. , which predicts that temperature extremes and heat waves in Canada will become more severe in the future.
The report Irreversible Extreme Heat: Protecting Canadians and Communities From a Lethal Future indicates that many changes caused by past and future greenhouse gas emissions will be irreversible for centuries, even millennia, and that Canada is warming, in average, at twice the global rate – annual average temperatures have increased by 1.7°C between 1948 and 2016.
To better respond to extreme heat events, Feltmate said jurisdictions across Canada should develop a heat alert system similar to the one launched in British Columbia last month to warn of life-threatening temperatures.
British Columbia’s Heat Alert and Response System was developed after the province recorded nearly 600 heat-related deaths during the so-called heat dome last summer .
“(The deaths are) often presented in the context of a phenomenon in British Columbia, but frankly, this episode of extreme heat could have hit Winnipeg, it could have been Toronto, it could have been Montreal, it could have been Halifax , it could have hit anywhere in the country. It just happened to hit BC,” Feltmate said.
“But every other province and certainly major to minor cities, quite frankly, across the country should take a cue from what’s now been announced in British Columbia to improve safety.”
Gordon McBean, professor emeritus and director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western University, said residents should be warned to seek cooler spaces so they are not at risk.
He added that these warning systems should be consistent across jurisdictions and complement each other to warn residents in nearby areas that they could see a similar extreme heat event unfold.
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“There is a need to coordinate these (systems) across the country. We need consistent information and warning systems across provinces,” said McBean, who spent decades as a climate scientist at Environment Canada.
However, Feltmate and McBean warned that some of the most vulnerable people during heatwaves are the elderly and the homeless, who may not have access to the technology needed to receive alerts sent via cellphones and computers. broadcast channels.
Feltmate said these vulnerable people should be regularly checked by community members or relatives during heat waves to ensure they are properly hydrated, need help getting to a center cooling or have access to working fans or air conditioning.
“We need people watching over them,” he said.
“It starts with figuring out where they are to begin with, then when the heat wave hits, we need someone to check on them once or twice a day.”
McBean suggested there also needs to be a system that gets critical information about extreme heat events and emergencies relayed to all residents, such as what to do to prepare for and respond to extreme heat.
“We need to find ways to provide this information in a way that the homeless, the elderly and those who do not have access to (the technology that receives alerts), and where there may also be language barriers, that they get this information,” he said.
Now is the time to put in place preparation for extreme heat across the country, Feltmate said, because the heat tends to be far more deadly than other extreme weather events, like the windstorm that swept through a much of Ontario in May.
“During floods and wildfires, or extreme winds that we’ve just seen recently, generally speaking, we have no fatalities or low numbers,” he said.
“With extreme heat, it’s in a whole different category. When things go wrong with extreme heat, the death toll can be in the hundreds or even thousands, and that’s why we have to move forward with a strong sense of urgency to counter the effects of the extreme heat right now.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 20, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.