Following last year’s extreme heat wave in BC, now known as a heat dome, the province announced a new response system to better prepare British Columbians for extreme heat.
In a live press conference Monday, Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced the launch of BC Heat Alert Response System (BC HARS), an alert system aimed to ensure people across the province have the tools they need to stay safe during future heat events.
BC HARS includes two categories of heat events: heat warnings and extreme heat emergencies.
In the event of a heat warning or extreme heat emergency, the provincial government and local authorities will take action based on their individual heat plans and processes.
BC HARS will also issue a Broadcast Intrusive alert for extreme heat emergencies through the national public alerting system, already used for Amber alerts, tsunami, wildfire and flood warnings.
“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,” said Farnworth.
From June 25th to July 1st 2021, unforgiving heat had devastating effects all around BC.
During that period, Island Health reported that double the amount of deaths were recorded than what was typically seen during the week in the previous five years.
According to data released by the BC Coroners Service back in November, record-breaking temperatures last summer resulted in the deaths of 595 British Columbians.
At least 526 deaths occurred during the first heat wave in June, with the others taking place in the days and weeks following the record breaking temperatures.
97 of those deaths occurred on Vancouver Island. The five-year average is 41.6 deaths over the same seven-day period.
Sixty nine percent of deaths recorded in the province were aged seventy or older. No heat-related deaths were recorded among children.
During the heatwave, Victoria hit a new record of 38.6 C from an old record of 27.8 set in 1951.
BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) will also implement a new Clinical Safety Plan in the case of an extreme heat event.
The plan will include increasing capacity, maintaining quality patient service, protecting staff health and safety, and ensuring timely communication with various stakeholders.
The plan will guide BCEHS during an extreme event through actions such as reassigning staff to support areas experiencing increased call volumes, reducing turnaround times at key hospitals, and using alternate care pathways and transport options.
In addition, BCEHS has added 125 new full-time paramedic positions in urban areas, 42 new dispatcher positions, 22 ambulances and converted staffing at 24 ambulance stations from on-call to 24 hours a day, seven days a week coverage.
“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,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.
“The new heat alert and response system and actions we’re taking to strengthen the ambulance system and emergency care will help ensure people across B.C. are safe during future heat waves.”
The Province has also created a new Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide targeted at helping people prepare their residences for extreme heat and that provides advice about how to stay safe when temperatures rise.