Heat Response in the Village of Ashcroft

In 2018, Interior Health, one of five publicly-funded regional health authorities in British Columbia, partnered with the Village of Ashcroft to develop and implement a Heat Alert and Response Plan (HARS) to lessen the negative impacts of extreme heat with a focus on at-risk populations. The village of Ashcroft is a small rural village in the Thompson Country of the Interior of British Columbia. Historic temperature data indicates that it is one of the hottest municipalities within B.C. and often within all of Canada. Between the years 2013-17 it had the highest total number of heat warnings in comparison to 11 communities in the interior region. Extreme heat presents severe direct and indirect negative consequences to human health and with this risk being projected to increase under climate change, the village set out to lessen these impacts on the population. The Village of Ashcroft, as the lead agency responsible for initiating the plan, formed a Community Stakeholder Committee comprised of local and regional government partners, community members and First Nation Band Members. The resulting plan outlined protocols and actions for the three stages of heat alerts which are; i) Pre-heat Notifications, ii) Level 1 Heat Advisory and iii) Level 2 Heat Advisory.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The interior region of B.C has always been known for its hot summer weather with climate models indicating that it will become even warmer, with more frequent and severe extreme heat events. The village of Ashcroft is the leading community in the region with 18 heat warnings being issued from 2013-2017. When understanding the impacts of exposure to extreme heat, the initiative considered both the direct impacts (e.g. heat related illness) as well as indirect impacts (e.g. indirect physical health, mental health and stress). Due to the rural nature of the Ashcroft community, there were several considerations taken when developing a heat response plan. Some of which include; i) assessing the community capacity to communicate risk and ensuring appropriate communication channels and strong community partnerships are established, ii) taking into account the different climate issues rural communities are faced with (e.g. wildfire and air quality hazards) to ensure that extreme heat isn’t left out and iii) considering the unique vulnerable groups such as outdoor workers (e.g. farmers, agricultural workers). A comprehensive breakdown of different vulnerable groups was also identified in the toolkit which includes 11 different groups which are;
1. older adults,
2. infants and young children,
3. pregnant women,
4. no access to air conditioning,
5. poor health status,
6. substance use disorders,
7. mental health disorders,
8. socially isolated individuals,
9. low income individuals,
10. outdoor physical activity, and
11. outdoor workers.

Identifying Actions

Various community stakeholders were engaged in the development of the plan and they are responsible for their respective response actions during an extreme heat event. The Village of Ashcroft is the lead agency responsible for initiating the plan once a heat alert is issued. It formed a Community Stakeholder Committee comprised of local and regional partners, community members & organizations, and first nation band members. The community engagement took place from 2018-19, which was followed by a stakeholder meeting in 2019. The identified action was to develop a Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) which:

  • alerts the public about the risks of heat,
  • facilitates the development of a community response to help people at highest risk, and
  • provides individuals with information and other resources to help them take protective actions before and during an extreme heat event.

In addition the plan had to accomplish three goals: it had to be i) simple and easy to put into action; ii) clearly outline who was responsive; and iii) use already existing infrastructure. The Village of Ashcroft was chosen by Interior Health as a pilot community to implement this initiative and provide a framework that could also be used in other regions of Canada.

Implementation

A heat warning is called in the Interior Health region when temperatures are above 35°C for two consecutive days and overnight temperatures remain above 18°C. Between the year 2018-19 the HARP was developed and implemented. This plan outlined protocols and actions for three stages of a heat alert:

  1. Pre-heat Notifications: Education and awareness that the Village is starting to experience hot weather and to watch for further heat alerts (i.e. mail out of pamphlets, update heat information on website, email stakeholder contacts, educate employees).
  2. Level 1 Heat Advisory: Notify the public that the Village of Ashcroft will be experiencing extremely hot weather (≥ 35°C for 2 consecutive days AND overnight temperature ≥ 18°C) along with key public health messaging related to prevention of heat related illness.
  3. Level 2 Heat Advisory: Notify the public that the Village is experiencing extremely hot weather for 3 consecutive days, affecting the health of the population. Messaging and actions aim to protect those that are more susceptible to heat related health problems by preparing cooling centres, signage in parks to limit outdoor activity, reviewing operating hours at pool, etc.

A HARP is most effective when it is delivered in conjunction with preventative actions that provide long- term and sustainable protection from extreme heat events such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving social networks and promoting healthy communities.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The result of the actions carried out in the HARP was a Heat Alert system that notifies the public when the Village is experiencing extremely hot weather and provides the appropriate information to mitigate the impacts. The messaging aims to protect those that are more susceptible to heat related health problems by preparing cooling centres, signage in parks to limit outdoor activity, review operating hours at pool, etc. The Village of Ashcroft rolled this out as part of an emergency alert system that alerts residents to six specific incidents one of which is extreme heat. Residents can register to receive messages via text, email, voice, or automatic messaging which will then let them know when there are emergency situations in the community. The system, which is the same as the one used by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, will cost the village $1,200 per year. Through the development of HARP, Interior Health was able to develop a framework that could be used in other regions of Canada. The challenges and lessons learned in this process are valuable and can help other communities in their attempts to implementing similar adaptation measures. As a small community with limited resources and capacity, the village had few public spaces that are air conditioned and ensuring and access to those buildings for extended periods was a challenge. Public messaging may need to include information on cooling facilities with operating times and other offered services by participating stakeholders. Important things to consider include; looking at existing facilities to explore how they can be used as cooling centres and working to identify stakeholders in the community that could be responsible for producing their own heat response plans.

Resources

Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Next Steps

An annual review of the heat response plan is suggested to evaluate what is working well and what can be done differently to adapt the plan accordingly. This would be achieved by convening community partners to evaluate how well the response was carried out and gather suggestions for future improvements. In addition, there are several long term strategies and preventive actions that can be implemented such as:

  • Develop climate change adaptation strategies
  • Update municipal emergency protocols
  • Install public water fountains
  • Plant trees and increase canopy coverage
  • Change to the built environment to reduce heat (high albedo surfaces for buildings and pavements)
  • Research/map populations at high risk to heat in your community

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The interior region of B.C has always been known for its hot summer weather with climate models indicating that it will become even warmer, with more frequent and severe extreme heat events. The village of Ashcroft is the leading community in the region with 18 heat warnings being issued from 2013-2017. When understanding the impacts of exposure to extreme heat, the initiative considered both the direct impacts (e.g. heat related illness) as well as indirect impacts (e.g. indirect physical health, mental health and stress). Due to the rural nature of the Ashcroft community, there were several considerations taken when developing a heat response plan. Some of which include; i) assessing the community capacity to communicate risk and ensuring appropriate communication channels and strong community partnerships are established, ii) taking into account the different climate issues rural communities are faced with (e.g. wildfire and air quality hazards) to ensure that extreme heat isn’t left out and iii) considering the unique vulnerable groups such as outdoor workers (e.g. farmers, agricultural workers). A comprehensive breakdown of different vulnerable groups was also identified in the toolkit which includes 11 different groups which are;
1. older adults,
2. infants and young children,
3. pregnant women,
4. no access to air conditioning,
5. poor health status,
6. substance use disorders,
7. mental health disorders,
8. socially isolated individuals,
9. low income individuals,
10. outdoor physical activity, and
11. outdoor workers.

Identifying Actions

Various community stakeholders were engaged in the development of the plan and they are responsible for their respective response actions during an extreme heat event. The Village of Ashcroft is the lead agency responsible for initiating the plan once a heat alert is issued. It formed a Community Stakeholder Committee comprised of local and regional partners, community members & organizations, and first nation band members. The community engagement took place from 2018-19, which was followed by a stakeholder meeting in 2019. The identified action was to develop a Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) which:

  • alerts the public about the risks of heat,
  • facilitates the development of a community response to help people at highest risk, and
  • provides individuals with information and other resources to help them take protective actions before and during an extreme heat event.

In addition the plan had to accomplish three goals: it had to be i) simple and easy to put into action; ii) clearly outline who was responsive; and iii) use already existing infrastructure. The Village of Ashcroft was chosen by Interior Health as a pilot community to implement this initiative and provide a framework that could also be used in other regions of Canada.

Implementation

A heat warning is called in the Interior Health region when temperatures are above 35°C for two consecutive days and overnight temperatures remain above 18°C. Between the year 2018-19 the HARP was developed and implemented. This plan outlined protocols and actions for three stages of a heat alert:

  1. Pre-heat Notifications: Education and awareness that the Village is starting to experience hot weather and to watch for further heat alerts (i.e. mail out of pamphlets, update heat information on website, email stakeholder contacts, educate employees).
  2. Level 1 Heat Advisory: Notify the public that the Village of Ashcroft will be experiencing extremely hot weather (≥ 35°C for 2 consecutive days AND overnight temperature ≥ 18°C) along with key public health messaging related to prevention of heat related illness.
  3. Level 2 Heat Advisory: Notify the public that the Village is experiencing extremely hot weather for 3 consecutive days, affecting the health of the population. Messaging and actions aim to protect those that are more susceptible to heat related health problems by preparing cooling centres, signage in parks to limit outdoor activity, reviewing operating hours at pool, etc.

A HARP is most effective when it is delivered in conjunction with preventative actions that provide long- term and sustainable protection from extreme heat events such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving social networks and promoting healthy communities.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The result of the actions carried out in the HARP was a Heat Alert system that notifies the public when the Village is experiencing extremely hot weather and provides the appropriate information to mitigate the impacts. The messaging aims to protect those that are more susceptible to heat related health problems by preparing cooling centres, signage in parks to limit outdoor activity, review operating hours at pool, etc. The Village of Ashcroft rolled this out as part of an emergency alert system that alerts residents to six specific incidents one of which is extreme heat. Residents can register to receive messages via text, email, voice, or automatic messaging which will then let them know when there are emergency situations in the community. The system, which is the same as the one used by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, will cost the village $1,200 per year. Through the development of HARP, Interior Health was able to develop a framework that could be used in other regions of Canada. The challenges and lessons learned in this process are valuable and can help other communities in their attempts to implementing similar adaptation measures. As a small community with limited resources and capacity, the village had few public spaces that are air conditioned and ensuring and access to those buildings for extended periods was a challenge. Public messaging may need to include information on cooling facilities with operating times and other offered services by participating stakeholders. Important things to consider include; looking at existing facilities to explore how they can be used as cooling centres and working to identify stakeholders in the community that could be responsible for producing their own heat response plans.

Resources

Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

Next Steps

An annual review of the heat response plan is suggested to evaluate what is working well and what can be done differently to adapt the plan accordingly. This would be achieved by convening community partners to evaluate how well the response was carried out and gather suggestions for future improvements. In addition, there are several long term strategies and preventive actions that can be implemented such as:

  • Develop climate change adaptation strategies
  • Update municipal emergency protocols
  • Install public water fountains
  • Plant trees and increase canopy coverage
  • Change to the built environment to reduce heat (high albedo surfaces for buildings and pavements)
  • Research/map populations at high risk to heat in your community