Preparing for Extreme Heat Before Mass Gatherings

When Leduc was selected to host the 2016 Alberta games, they realized that the large crowds at the event may be vulnerable to extreme heat and took a number of precautions to reduce the threat posed. The precautions where enacted by city officials and took the form of small and attainable steps that nevertheless managed to significantly improve readiness to extreme heat for the duration of the event. Lessons were also learned that could be applied to future gatherings, the value of these lessons will only increase over time as climate change brings an increase in extreme heat degree days.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Seeing projections indicating that average Summer temperatures will rise by 2.1C, The City of Leduc recognized the growing danger posed by extreme heat and took steps to combat its effects. The basis for this kind of action was laid out in Leduc’s Weather and Climate Readiness Plan, created with help from the All One Sky Foundation. In this document, extreme heat (or heat waves) was recognized as a mid-level threat, falling behind several different types of extreme precipitation events. It was really the Alberta Games that spurred the town to take a major look at their preparedness for a heat wave. There were two specific recommendations for handling extreme heat in the Weather and Climate Readiness Plan, one of which was to embed requirements for hydration/cooling stations within guide for event planning applications. As such, these preparedness efforts can be seen as as a direct outcome of having completed such a project beforehand.

Identifying Actions

Leduc had a Climate and Weather Readiness Plan in place before the 2016 Alberta Games, which required that they consider the potential effects of extreme heat. This gave them direction and authority to pursue a mitigation program. They realized the need to involve multiple actors, allowing for broad distribution of reusable water bottles so that the water-refill stations could be utilized by anyone regardless of their individual preparedness or, more importantly, finances. This was accomplished by speaking to the licensed vendors who were operating at the games. The games were based around the local recreation centre, which was repurposed into a cooling centre, as well. These actions indicate a clear directive to provide protection for all citizens and a willingness to collaborate with outside actors (vendors) in order to achieve the desired outcome. The organizers also recognized that the large numbers of people in the crowd meant that local health officials did not have the capacity to effectively monitor the area and so endeavoured to train volunteers in the signs of dehydration or overheating.

Implementation

One of the noted factors that helped to ensure adequate access to cooling services was the centralized nature of the event and event space. By locating most events around the cooling center itself, all attendees had easy access to a safe space. Additionally, this centralization also allowed for trained volunteers to easily survey large portions of the crowd at the same time, looking for evidence of heat stroke. And finally, this kept supply lines for refilling the water stations short, allowing for prompt re-upping of the reservoirs. Golf carts found use both as a means of delivering water to cooling stations to keep them refilled and also a way for health professionals to easily make their way through a crowd, allowing for them to survey large swathes of the attendees at a time for anyone suffering heat related illness or other distress.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Ultimately, these precautions were not really needed as the temperatures did not exceed 25C. However, the presence of the cooling center did serve a secondary purpose as it provided shelter for attendees during a thunderstorm later in they day. Additionally, some of the water supply infrastructure remains usable for later years in the event of a heat wave or similar issue. Furthermore, the city now possesses the supplies and experience for responding to a major heatwave.

Next Steps

Leduc still faces the possibility of major heatwaves in the future, so retaining the material and the institutional knowledge acquired by preparing for this event would be of great value to the City of Leduc and its inhabitants in the coming years.