Extreme Heat Initial Response Guide

The City of Vancouver expects heat-related mortality rates to rise by some 325% by 2050 (with correspondingly large increase in morbidity as well) and in order to combat this, they created the Extreme Heat Initial Response Guidelines to help people and communities better prepare for the future climate. Climate projections at the time of the creation of this program estimated that the city should see its average annual temperature increase by 1.7C by the 2050’s and up to 2.7C by the 2080’s. These increases in heat will affect all members of the city, but not equally. Some population, including the homeless, the elderly, and those suffering from mental illness and addiction, are more likely to be deleteriously impacted by climate-induced heat. It is these groups specifically that this program attempts to help. Success is difficult to measure because the worst effects of the increasing heat have not been felt yet but many features of this Guideline have already been implemented, and many more are in the preparatory stages.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

One of the major events that inspired the development of this plan was the European Heat Wave of 2003 that resulted in an esimated 35,000 deaths. This tragedy is referenced in the guiding documents presenting the plan to Council. There was also the death of a homeless man, Curtis Brick, from heat exposure in a park. The climate projections used in this work were completed by PCIC in 2016 as funded by the City. The City continues to work on heat response closely with BC Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and the Centre for Disease Control, Environment Canada and a range of other partners. Health Canada provided significant support to initiate various actions such as heat mapping.

Identifying Actions

In summer 2019, the City worked with Evergreen to engage 550 seniors and residents of the downtown eastside to better understand their lived experience, needs and preferences during heat and poor air quality events. The findings will be incorporated into improvement of short and long term planning for heat.


Heat Response Guideline: the guideline includes specific actions related to access to water, cooling centres, monitoring in social housing and outside. The city increases access to water through both increasing the number of water fountains annually and installing temporary water fountains and misters in the summer. Providing cool common rooms and increasing tenant monitoring in social housing complements the opening of cooling centres in public facilities around the city. City staff have been working with BC Housing to improve communication and resources for social housing providers and building operators.

In terms of longer-term actions, city staff target hot areas with vulnerable conditions for additional tree planting and green infrastructure; an assessment of cooling options for city-owned social housing has been completed; staff are researching thermal comfort and building design options; and many more actions.

There were four main actions utilized to reduce heat-related mortality in vulnerable populations. First, increasing access to drinking water through the additon of more fixed drinking fountains, acquiring portable fountains that could be deployed as necessary, and increasing the number of places in which reusable water bottles could be refilled. Second, planning for the creation of temporary cooling shelters to be activated during an extreme heat event. Third, monitoring of public spaces for vulnerable populations and increasing staff resources to help inform at-risk individuals of the dangers faced and how to access fresh water, cooling facilities, and other means of protecting themselves. And fourth, the establishment of public outreach and information programs to inform the public at large on what the dangers are, how to spot an ailing or vulnerable person, and how to help them. Additionally, there are plans for using GIS systems for more precise placement of cooling centers and exploring the possibility of using public transportation service to help people access cooling centers that would be otherwise unreachable.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Implementing the City’s heat response plan was challenging during the summer of 2020. Public facilities designated as cooling centres were closed, staff laid off and non-profit housing common cooling rooms too small with physical distancing constraints. Solutions focused on providing shade and access to water in outdoor locations where multiple services were being provided and/or people were lining up or naturally congregating. Staff also partnered with a non-profit organization to provide a cooling centre and worked on safety protocols to open facilities in the most high-need areas should there be an extreme heat alert. Fans were provided for non-profit housing tenants. Though there were no heat warnings in summer 2020 triggering the opening of City cooling centres, they were opened during a poor air quality alert in September 2020.