The B.C. government is launching the BC Heat Alert and Response System to more directly inform the public of extreme weather events.
On Monday, the province announced that extreme heat emergencies will be added to the province’s Alert Ready system, which issues public safety alerts through TV and radio broadcasters, as well as mobile devices, for floods, wildfires, potential tsunamis and Amber Alerts.
“Last summer’s unprecedented heat dome tragically resulted in hundreds of fatalities – making it clear we need to do more to be better prepared for future extreme heat events,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said.
“We’ve developed a new heat framework so we’re ready for the next heat event, and we are ready to issue Broadcast Intrusive alerts for extreme heat emergencies to ensure people are aware.”
The province has been under intense pressure to act after the BC Coroners Service concluded 595 people died from “heat-related deaths” in the province between June 18 and Aug. 12, 2021. Most of the fatalities were people 70 years and older.
The record-breaking heat wave that scorched western North America last June was among the most extreme ever recorded globally, according to modelling and analysis by researchers at universities in the United Kingdom.
Human Rights Watch later determined the B.C. government’s inadequate support during the extreme heat wave summer “compounded risks” for people with disabilities and older adults.
“It’s vital that we take the lessons we learned from last year’s devastating heat dome to make sure that the Province – and our health-care system – are as prepared and resilient as possible during extreme heat,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
Two levels of alerts will be delivered through the national public alert system: heat warnings and extreme heat emergencies.
The province also announced a new preparedness guide for extreme heat that encourages people to identify cool zones inside and outside their homes, such as community centres or libraries, taking cool baths or showers, drinking plenty of water, and checking in with vulnerable neighbours.
The response system will be activated when two or more consecutive days call for daytime maximum temperatures to reach or exceed regional temperature thresholds, and nighttime minimum temperatures are expected to be above regional temperature thresholds, the province said.
Read more: Staff at B.C.’s 911 dispatcher flagged understaffing up to a year before deadly heat wave: emails
Extreme heat emergencies will be declared when maximum temperatures are expected to substantively increase day over day for three or more days in a row.
The province also announced more supports to the ambulance system to better respond to a spike in 911 calls during a heat emergency.
– With files from the Canadian Press