Extreme heat, especially over prolonged periods of time, can have severe negative effects on a person’s health. Furthermore, the most physiologically vulnerable groups of people are the elderly and those struggling with mental illnesses and addiction. Following the death due heat stroke to heat of a local forestry worker in 1994, the Montreal Public Health Department embarked on a program to inform its citizens about the dangers of heat stroke and some means to combat it. This was achieved mainly through the dissemination of brochures on the matter. This program was later refined in 2002 when the Public Health Department conducted its first structure heat-awareness campaign. The 2003 European Heatwave that resulted in over 35,000 deaths galvanized Montreal to create its first official heat-response plan. This plan was then revised in 2007. In 2010, Montreal experienced a 5-day heatwave that elevated the plan into the active intervention stage, prompting the deployment of cooling centres across the city and an aggressive communications campaign. The effectiveness of this program was closely monitored and it was found that often the parents, friends, and loved ones of people suffering from mental health issues were often unaware of the heightened risks this group faces. It was decided then to tailor the communications to specific groups in the hopes of achieving a more widespread awareness of the unique needs of different groups in the face of extreme heat.
As global climate change increases the likelihood of extreme heat events, the Montreal Public Health Department is taking action to ensure that the most vulnerable members of its community remain informed on the best actions that they can take to stay safe during a heatwave. The Department has been active in preparing for extreme heat events from some time. At least as far back as 1994, Montreal had an interest in informing its citizens about the dangers of extreme heat, publishing brochures about ways to stay cool during a heatwave. Over time, the Department came to realize that many people either had difficulty accessing the information or difficulty in implementing the recommendations. They found that the two groups of highest risk for heat related mortality and morbidity were also the same groups that had difficulty accessing the information: the elderly and those suffering from mental illness or addiction. As a result, the Department embarked on a strategy of refining its communication means to help better access these groups.