Vancouver is in the early days of a week-long heat wave that will impact its most vulnerable citizens
All the weather forecasters have been warning Metro Vancouver residents for days that we are about to experience what is known officially as a "heat wave." The last time this happened was in the mid-1950s. If you question the kind of impact a heat wave can have, you should remember that over 14,000 people (most were elderly) died in France alone in 2003 during their last major outbreak.
A heat wave is defined as a set period of days in which the temperature exceeds 32 celcius. They are particularly hard on children and the elderly as well as people who are house-bound with no access to air conditioning. Considering that most people in Vancouver live without air conditioning, there are clearly going to be a lot of people who will suffer from the effects of this crippling heat this week.
With all the advance warning, I was fully expecting there would already have been some sort of communique or news release from Vancouver (or any other) city hall regarding what people should do during the extreme heat. A scan of the Mayor's website and media reports came up empty-handed.
A simple message from the Mayor regarding where people can find "cooling places" or what they should do in case of extreme heat would have been a real no-brainer. You'd think Robertson would have learned his lesson on poor communications from his terrible handling of the cold and snow during last winter's Snowmageddon. If you recall, while everyone else was freezing their derriere in two meter deep snowdrifts, His Worship was sunning himself in Mexico.
A cursory review of how other cities handle heat waves (granted they get them more often than Vancouver does) demonstrates that some urban centres are better prepared to handle them than others. Take for example the City of Boston. Mayor Thomas Menino has an easy to find posting on the City's website which states:
Mayor Thomas M. Menino reminds residents to prepare for the hot and humid weather by taking precautions to stay healthy.
Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and injuries, but everyone should remember to limit their activities during very hot weather, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol. Additional measures to beat the heat include avoiding cooking, taking cool showers or baths, and wearing loose, light-colored clothing.
The Mayor even has a handy one page flyer on how to help the homeless population during a heat wave. Given that Robertson said helping the homeless was his number one priority, you'd think a simple message on what people could do to help those less fortunate would be in order. Here is what Mayor Menino advises:
Please Be Our Eyes And Ears In The City: If a homeless person in need approaches
you or is observed by you to be in need of help, please show them the same courtesy as you would any of your fellow citizens. A list of programs and emergency contacts is provided below.
If Someone Appears to Be Passed Out: If a person presumed to be homeless appears to be passed out, please do not assume that they are “just drunk.” People become dehydrated rapidly in extremely hot weather, and anyone “passed out” should be considered medically at risk. People lying in the sun or badly sunburned are additionally at risk. If you see anyone passed out on the streets or sidewalks, PLEASE CALL 9-1-1.
Water, Water Everywhere: Many homeless persons lack resources or do not feel entitled to walk into some establishments and ask for water. It is both compassionate and helpful to offer a cup of cold water, bottled water or sports drinks to homeless persons. Offer sunscreen or a baseball cap to protect from the sun. Reminders to move into a shaded area can help as well.
In comparison to other cities, the heat wave Vancouver is now experiencing might appear mild. However, as I previously stated, this region is poorly equipped to handle extreme weather phenomenon, regardless in what form it comes. It is important that all civic leaders understand they will need to over communicate in the coming days to ensure that everyone gets through this remaining healthy and alive.
If you live in Metro Vancouver and you know of someone who might be adversely impacted by the heat wave, be sure to take a few moments out of your day to touch base with them. If they are unable to access a fan or cooling device, perhaps think of lending them one of yours in the interim. If you want more information on how to handle Vancouver's heat, you should visit Mayor Menino's website.
Just in case the Mayor wants to avoid Sunmageddon, he may want to incorporate the following tips in his next message to the public:
- This is not business as usual, try to avoid outdoor excursions or plans to ride your bike for long distances
- Use public transit or car pool as air quality will be poor in the coming days. Work from home if you can
- Reduce your electricity consumption to avoid region-wide blackouts which could have huge impacts on our local economy
- If you have air conditioning, turn it off during the day if nobody is left at home.
- Preserve water by eliminating your next car wash and skip out on your next lawn sprinkling session.
- Phone an elderly person or shut-in and invite them over if you have access to air conditioning
Simply advising the public about a smog alert is not enough from our public officials. Let's hope that within the next 24 hours, Vancouver's mayor (and others) show some leadership and helps to ensure all of his citizens are equipped with the information they need to get through these sweltering temperatures unscathed. Otherwise, the deafening silence from his office will likely burn him again.