Planning for future extreme heat emergencies includes short-term planning and long-term preparation in Oak Bay. Fire Chief Frank Macdonald outlined the district’s approach to council during its July 11 meeting.
More than 700 people in B.C. died last year due to extreme heat events, according to the provincial health authority, with 21 of them on southern Vancouver Island.
In response to those events, Oak Bay Emergency Services staff has been preparing for extreme summer heat events, working to reduce risks to the health and safety of residents.
Over the one-week heat wave, temperatures rose to a peak of over 40 C in many parts of the province. But different regions were impacted disproportionately, Macdonald told council. Island Health and BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) in the Capital Region didn’t report the impact other areas saw. For example, Oak Bay Fire Department was not overwhelmed by medical calls to help BCEHS like their counterparts in Vancouver. There the fire department was, at one point, fully tied up in medical calls amid significant ambulance delays, leaving no resources available for fire response.
While the impacts were less severe, Macdonald noted weather scientists predict hotter summers and extreme heat events should be expected.
Heat events are classified as top-down events, meaning local emergency programs follow the lead of the province. Under the BC Heat Alert and Response System launched in June, a dedicated provincial heat committee will issue either warnings or emergency alerts, depending on different temperature thresholds. If a region is expected to see two or more consecutive days with daytime highs and nighttime lows above what is considered normal, a warning will be issued. If temperatures are expected to continue to increase day over day for three or more days, an extreme heat emergency will be declared and Alert Ready may be used. That emergency alert system should be familiar to residents as Amber Alerts and tsunami warnings on television, radio and cellphones.
Local protocols created by the Oak Bay Emergency Program include education, partnerships, communication, block watch, the Greater Victoria Public Library, Oak Bay Volunteers Services and other local governments. The partnerships focus on education, checking in on vulnerable residents during an event, and providing a place to cool for those who need.
In the event of an extreme heat event the air-conditioned common areas of Oak Bay Recreation Centre, Monterey centre and the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, serve as unmanned cooling centres. Neighbouring municipalities confirm their cooling centres will be open to Oak Bay residents living in the area.
OBEP plans to share information through a new preparedness guide, presentations at Monterey centre, displays during the monthly night market and both traditional and social media.
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