Health

City Heat Warning Plan: Keep Doing Nothing

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 03, 2007

Well, the Department of Public Health has escalated its heat advisory program to stage 2: a Heat Warning.

A heat warning is issued when the humidex is expected to reach 40 or greater for more than one day/

Since the risk is more severe, the response is commensurately more ... oh, wait. It's actually still completely ineffectual.

In addition to the free advice on staying cool, it lists some symptoms of heat exhaustion - "heavy sweating, weakness, weak pulse, fainting, vomiting, and cold, pale, clammy skin" - and recommends that you call 911 if you experience them.

This is eerily similar to US President George W. Bush threatening to veto a Congressional attempt to extend health coverage to more low income children by claiming they can always go to the ER.

Doing sweet nothing until people are dangerously ill and then dumping them into emergency triage is a stupid, reactive, wasteful, and inhumane way for a city to respond to a public health emergency.

How high do temperatures have to get before the city decides to get proactive and provide safe, cool places for our most vulnerable citizens? Sorry, but saying "go to the mall" just doesn't cut it.

This ia a failure on the part of Public Health, but at a more basic level, it's a failure of City Council, which after all is ultimately responsible to ensure that programs are in place to deal with municipal issues.

According to the city's three stage heat alert program [PDF], the city's only response at stage two is to issue media notices.

Even at stage three, the Public Health response is:

[Ministry of Health] to convene City Emergency Control Group to consider expected duration of heat alert and tailor response appropriately and to consider the likely contemporaneous issues associated with brown and black outs due to high energy consumption and the impact on City resources.

So once the city is in a stage three heat alert, then it will convene a meeting to "tailor [its] response appropriately"? It's way too late, in the thick of a crisis, to start developing ad hoc plans, especially when the appropriate response strategy is already painfully obvious.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 03, 2007 at 11:09:08

sheesh, where the heck are these guys from?? they expect it to get hotter than this?? Temp in Hamilton was 35 yesterday, humidex hit 42. If that doesn't call for free outdoor pools, extended hours till 9 or 10pm and free cooling centres all across the city I don't know what does? Maybe they'll keep the pools open late once the humidex hits 50...that is if we can all make it to the park without passing out.

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By TomC (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2007 at 11:27:42

I get symptoms of "heavy sweating, weakness, weak pulse, fainting, vomiting, and cold, pale, clammy skin" just trying to figure out how Public Health can get away with such an ineffectual extreme heat policy.
I put in a request this morning to find out if we can expect an actual Heat Alert today as from my rudimentary calcualations today (Friday the 3rd) would be the fourth day in a row in which the humidex would be above 40 - thereby triggering ...wait for it... "A Meeting" - but also an acutal Heat Alert and the possibility of opening cooling centres.
Toronto has had cooling centres open all week with lower temperatures.
The response just in from Public Health: they expect temperatures to break today and will "monitor the situation" - don't expect them to call a Heat Alert.

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By Spencer Creeps (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2007 at 16:07:27

"When in doubt, do nothing."

Sort'a like the Legionnaire's Disease spore incident, the Spencer Creek area fire aftermath...
("Speak to No One about this!")

Public Health or the CIA? I suppose it will get colder in a few months, & it will be time to ignore the intense cold days-???

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