Protecting Cities from Extreme Heat by Providing Various Cooling Options

After having completed a study looking at how extreme heat affects vulnerable persons, the City of Sherbrooke, Quebec launched an ambitious Extreme Heat Response Plan (Plan Particulier d’Intervention – Chaleur Extrême) to help protect its citizens. The document specifically addressed the impacts felt when the heat remains above 31°C during the day and 18°C during the night for a period of longer than two days. The response plan was robust and multifaceted, taking into account vulnerability mapping, buildings operations, cooling centres, transportation for vulnerable persons, and more. The plan was put into action during the heatwave of 2010 and resources were mobilized in accordance with the plan to open cooling centres, extend hours on existing cooling infrastructure, and provide transit to people with mobility issues.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The Extreme Heat Intervention Plan has existed in Sherbrooke since at least 1998 and has undergone several revisions. The most recent and comprehensive revision was completed in 2012, following a heatwave in the summer of 2010 that likely resulted in many deaths across the province of Quebec (see ‘resource’ for more). The summer of 2010 was, at the time, the hottest on record in 63 years of recorded meteorological observations. The 2010 heatwave peaked in early July, with maximum temperatures reaching 30°C or more, minimum temperatures above 20°C, and high humidity. One of the critical components of the newer iterations of the plan was obtaining a more accurate understanding of the differing magnitudes to which extreme heat affected different neighbourhoods in the City; this was accomplished by creating a heat map and allowed for a more precise understanding of the most efficient means of distributing resources.

Identifying Actions

Having been formed in the wake of a major heat event, the City had a clearer idea of what the dangers were, what methods could be used to combat those dangers, and ways that the existing response system could be further improved. One particular topic that was noted as a key factor of success was the city’s dedication to gaining a very precise understanding of how effective its parks and greenspaces were as a cooling site. City employees were dispatched to all such locations and made a detailed inventory of the water fountains, washrooms, showers, benches, tables, covered or shaded areas, splash pads, pools, beaches, and air-conditioned spaces. This attention to the quality of the relief provided by cooling spaces permeates the rest of the Extreme Heat Response Plan, with notable attention being spent on which buildings are capable of acting as cooling centres in an emergency and ensuring that they are capable of doing so for extended periods of time by allotting resources to maintain and repair conditioning systems. The recognized need for operational continuity informed much of the planning process and subsequent interventions, ensuring that services designed to keep people cool are still functioning when the need for them arises.

Implementation

The City of Sherbrooke’s Extreme Heat Intervention Plan has a number of different interventions designed to help protect its citizens from extreme heat. On an operational level, the City has looked into the electricity loads needed to maintain continuous use of air conditioning in all public buildings, both to ensure operational continuity of government services and also to allow these buildings to operate as emergency cooling centres should the need arise. Part of this plan also requires that dangerously hot buildings be closed for use during periods of extreme heat. The City is also working with emergency services to evaluate the nature of the calls they receive and with the park department to ensure that they are well-equipped to intervene should they encounter someone suffering from heat stress. Furthermore, the City recognizes the vital cooling services provided by pools, splash pads, beaches, and other water features and works to ensure that they are open longer and remain safe and well-lit later into the evening. These measures are complemented with an enhanced communication strategy that operates on traditional and social media platforms and also has a specialized communication network specifically targeting senior citizens who may not otherwise have access to air-conditioned buildings.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The plan, in its previous iteration, was put into action during the summer heatwave of 2010. This event saw maximum temperatures reaching 30°C or more, minimum temperatures above 20°C, and high humidity. During the event, a local library was converted to an emergency cooling shelter and there were extended hours at many local pools, beaches, and splash pads for a period of three days. Additionally, vulnerable peoples were transported to the cooling centres by local public transit authorities.

Resources