Ensuring Cooling Stations are Accessible to All Residents

Recognizing that it had no specific plans for dealing with a major extreme heat event, in 2007 the City of Greater Sudbury, Ontario implemented their Hot Weather Response Plan in order to better protect their citizens from the dangers of extreme heat. The original document, being produced in 2004, did not make specific reference to climate change; that has now been corrected and the newest version of the plan, published in 2016, makes explicit reference to climate change and the dangers it poses with regard to extreme heat events. While the Hot Weather Response Plan incorporates protections for all citizens of the Greater Sudbury Area, the plan takes more precise and detailed cautions with regard to the highest-risk segments of the population. While the Hot Weather Response Plan had not yet been activated at the time this case study was written, it has since been activated during the Summer of 2020 in a period of intense and prolonged heat in early July of that year.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Extreme heat events are characterized by prolonged periods of high heat in which evening nighttime temperatures remain high. Without adequate cooling mechanisms, prolonged exposure to this kind of heat can result in severe negative health consequences, including death. While everyone is susceptible to these effects, some demographics are more vulnerable than others. Some groups identified as being notably high risk include the elderly, infants and young children, pregnant women, the homeless, and those struggling with addiction and mental illness. Greater Sudbury, situated relatively far North for a major Canadian city, is less likely to experience extreme heat events than, say, Toronto is. However, such events do occur here, with the most recent one happening in the Summer of 2020. Climate change is only going to exacerbate the problem, with some reports indicating that the previous 50-year heatwaves may occur as frequently as every other year. Official documents produced by the City of Greater Sudbury indicate that they plan for a rise in average Summer temperatures of between 2.5°C and 3.5°C by 2050. This same report indicates that they expect more severe occurrences of extreme heat events, as well as increases in the rates of infectious disease and air quality/smog events. These concerns have since been incorporated into the updated versions of the Hot Weather Response Plan, the last version of which was released in 2016.

Identifying Actions

In the early 2000’s the City of Greater Sudbury came to the realization that they had no single cohesive plan for a response to an extreme heat event. This realization came about at roughly the time the Province of Ontario released data showing a rise in heat-related health issues. The Hot Weather Response Plan followed shortly after the conjunction of these two events.

Implementation

While the City of Greater Sudbury’s Hot Weather Response Plan is a comprehensive and detailed document, the two most important points of the plan are the focus on ensuring that that all agencies working with vulnerable groups can provide the necessary information on what precautions to take during extremely hot days, and that access to cooling centres is facilitated for high-risk populations. When an extreme heat event occurs, the Sudbury and District Health Unit declares a heat alert, notifying the City of Greater Sudbury’s Emergency Management Section. Following this, the City’s Emergency Manager utilized the pre-established communication network to inform all community heat response partners of the alert. The then uses various media platforms to inform the public about the heat event, including the dangers posed by extreme heat, where to find cooling shelters, and other notifications deemed salient. The plan also outlines the tasks to be taken by the city, including ordering local utilities to halt all service cancellations until after the heat alert has passed, extending hours of operation and supervision at municipal beaches, expanding locations and hours of operation of public swims at city pools, and opening cooling centres at public libraries, citizen service centres, and community centres. In order to ensure that citizens can access these cooling centres, the city also made it so that all transit routes are free to use during extreme heat alerts.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

As of 2020, the City of Greater Sudbury has activated its Hot Weather Response Plan annually for the last 3 years. A heat wave in 2020 that lasted throughout late June and Early July was particularly problematic given the ongoing quarantine and closures of public buildings as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some locations that would have previously been used as a cooling station remained closed. This included community centres, libraries, citizens service centres, and public pools. The city did, however, open two cooling centres – one at the local YMCA and the other at the Sudbury Community Arena. Outdoor recreation areas that could offer cooling services, such as public beaches, had their hours extended.

Next Steps

The Hot Weather Response Plan is a living document that will continue to undergo revisions in the future. There are currently plans to incorporate making para-transit freely available to those citizens who need the service during an extreme heat event.