Engaging Landlords to Protect Health from Extreme Heat

With the recognition that the residents most vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat are often also some of the most difficult to establish communications with, the City of Hamilton revised the communication strategy of their heat alerts in order to better serve these at-risk citizens. While extreme heat is hazardous to people from all walks of life, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, and those struggling with addiction and mental illness are often the most severely threatened. These same groups of people, for various reasons, are often among the most difficult to reach with a broad-spectrum communication strategy. By revising their communication strategy to specifically targeted the landlords and caregivers who are often in close contacts with members of these at-risk groups, the City of Hamilton has improved coverage and penetration of the heat alert system.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Extreme heat is a problem that is expected to become increasingly more common in the future due to the effects of a changing climate. Many cities across Canada have adopted some form of heat alert system that informs citizens not only of the dangers posed by extreme heat, but also what precautions and interventions are available to increase their resilience to this danger. While every human being is potentially at risk from the effects of extreme heat, it does pose a greater threat to some groups more than others. Commonly identified groups that are at a greater risk to extreme heat include the elderly, the homeless, recent immigrants, infants, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, and those struggling with addiction and other mental illnesses, among others. All of these groups require different strategies in order to maximize the effects of a heat alert system. In Hamilton, it was observed that many elderly people live in apartments owned and operated by a landlord or in assisted-care facilities. Not only are landlords and caregivers in a prime position to offer aid in the event of a heatwave, but they are also good vectors by which communications regarding extreme heat events, and the appropriate preventative measures, can be transmitted to elderly citizens. Furthermore, they often have a direct or indirect responsibility for acting on these preventative measures that could reduce harm.

Identifying Actions

With the realization that landlords and caregivers are well positioned to educate their residents about the dangers of extreme heat and to implement measures to foster heat-resiliency, the City of Hamilton decided to target its heat alert and response system notifications and education campaign at these groups. The plan was developed in conjunction with an advisory committee comprised of members of these targeted groups in order to ensure that the actions recommended were feasible and functional. The advisory materials distributed to landlords are reviewed and updated annually to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date with the latest understanding extreme heat and the precautions for it.

Implementation

Posters are distributed in May to landlords with the intent that they hang these in the hallways and other public areas of apartment buildings where the residents can see them as they go about their daily routines. In addition to the tasks that can be taken by an individual to reduce their personal susceptibility to the harms of extreme heat, there are a number of measures that can be taken by landlords to help reduce the potential for harm in the buildings they operate. Some examples as previously used by the City of Hamilton include providing residents access to a cooler area in the building during a heat event for several hours at a time (e.g. a common room with air conditioning or a     basement area), keeping windows in hallways slightly open to allow air to circulate, providing heat safety information to residents or post the information in common areas (e.g. by the elevator, in the lobby), and having building staff check on vulnerable residents every few hours during extreme heat events. The materials provided by the city are updated annually and the information campaigns are updated and modified as it becomes necessary.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The case study indicates that these efforts have proven successful. Some of the reported outcomes from this campaign demonstrate that landlords are becoming more aware of the health impacts of extreme heat and vulnerable populations that are in their care, have access to key information that can be used to foster heat-resilience among these populations, are more aware of possible actions that they could take to assist their residents to manage heat risks, can better recognize signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and know what first aid to administer as well as when to call 9-1-1. In addition to these general indicators, there have been a number of explicit examples of landlords incorporating this knowledge into their operations. In one such case two landlords that own adjacent buildings worked together to develop a common area in one of the buildings to provide a cool space where residents of both buildings can comfortably escape the heat. It is believed that working with landlords has been a cost-effective mechanism to reduce heat-vulnerability in the community and also to build awareness about the issue of heat-related morbidity and mortality.

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