Starting this summer, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Fraser Health will coordinate with Environment Canada to issue heat alerts and a new Extreme Heat-Wave Advisory when extended periods of hot weather pose a threat to public health.
This new alerting system is a response to heat-related deaths that occurred in July 2009, when a week-long heat wave featured temperatures of 34-degrees Celsius at Vancouver International Airport and 38-degrees Celsius in Abbotsford.
"Everybody appreciates warm weather, but we sometimes fail to realize the dangers of severe heat," said Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist David Jones. "The Extreme Heat-Wave Advisory will tell people that a hot spell is moving to another level, and they need to take immediate action to stay safe."
Currently, Environment Canada issues a public Special Weather Statement when temperatures on successive days in the Lower Mainland are projected to exceed 32-degrees Celsius.
Now, medical health officers will turn that Special Weather Statement into a special hot weather news release. This release will include tips the public can use to beat the heat.
"In effect the hot weather news release would be a signal for municipalities and the general public to get ready, hot weather is on the way," said VCH medical health officer Dr. Meena Dawar.
If Environment Canada forecasts for even more intense heat, it will issue a new public Extreme Heat-Wave Advisory.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health will support this advisory by issuing news releases of their own.
These actions are intended to trigger municipal heat response plans.
These plans include education messages to the public and vulnerable populations, advice about cooling centres and water stations, or considerations for outdoor events including water availability and schedule changes.
"The Extreme Heat Wave Advisory will alert people to the fact that they need to take immediate action to stay safe in the heat," said Dr. Tom Kosatsky from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the agency that conducted the heat mortality analysis that gave rise to this warning system.
"These temperatures were associated with excess heat related deaths in the Lower Mainland in 2009.
We, thus, want to encourage people to stay cool and hydrated and make contact with their elderly family members or neighbours to ensure that they, too, are able to seek respite from the heat."