In 2011, Health Canada published a Best Practices Guidebook on Heat Alert and Response Systems, which included a chart of heat projections for specific Canadian cities. Subsequently, Manitoba Health, Seniors, and Active Living (MHSAL) decided to develop a province-wide plan to develop local Heat Alert and Response Systems for both urban areas and rural/remote communities in Manitoba. The Town of Melita was one of two regional health authorities that partnered with MHSAL’s Office of Disaster Management to conduct vulnerability assessments, whose findings would inform the development of Heat Alert and Response Systems. Identifying vulnerable populations was a demanding task for the Town of Melita, since rural communities often lack the data monitor relationships between temperature, mortality, and morbidity. The Town formed a Heat Alert Response Advisory Committee (HARSAC) with the assistance of the local regional health authority (the Assiniboine Regional Health Authority). With the support of Health Canada, Melita conducted a vulnerability assessment in parallel with a table-top exercise that simulated an extreme heat event. These two activities helped the Town identify specific risks related to extreme heat faced by the small rural community. The Town also used the assessment to learn about characteristics of vulnerable groups and existing capacities and limitations within the community. A major limitation particular to rural communities is that they often lack the larger public buildings that urban cities can use as cooling facilities. Instead, Melita was forced to rely on the support of social networks to communicate about and identify and access cooling alternatives. Understanding the importance of improving adaptive capacity to extreme heat events in the face of increasing temperatures, Assiniboine Regional Health Authority and the Town of Melita used information from the assessments to begin development and implementation of a local Heat Alert and Response System for the community.
Following Health Canada’s heat projections published in 2011, the Town of Melita worked with Health Canada and other stakeholders to complete heat vulnerability assessments that would provide guidance in the design of a rural Heat Alert and Response System for the community. As a rural municipality, Melita does not experience the urban heat island effect, but projected increases in temperature due to climate change still pose a significant threat to residents of the Town. Melita established a local Heat Alert Response Advisory Committee (HARSAC) consisting of local health and regional disaster management partners, as well as community members and representatives from the local municipality. With Health Canada’s support, the committee conducted vulnerability assessments and table-top exercises, which simulated extreme heat events. These two activities revealed the risks related to extreme heat faced by the small rural community, the characteristics of vulnerable groups, and existing capacities and limitations within the community. Following the assessment, the committee asked local Emergency Medical Services to start including a heat vulnerability assessment for seniors as part of a general health assessment. Mediums such as local newspapers, heat-health fact sheets, brochures, and children’s colouring sheets were used to inform the local population of best practices to reduce health risks from extreme heat events. The Town also worked to introduce more cooling locations, such as the outdoor swimming pool, bowling alley, seniors centre, and the library, as part of the development of the Heat Alert and Response System. An innovative idea was to use the local Handi-Van service as transportation for high-risk individuals to cooling stations during extreme heat events. The engagement of various stakeholders in Heat Alert and Response System activities helped reinforce communication and relationships between the residents and those providing social support services, and enabled the system to be flexible to local conditions.