With the intense heat that summer can bring, the region’s health department, along with nine other Ontario public health units, will be piloting a new harmonized Heat Alert and Response System.
The new system will be based on heat warning information provided by Environment Canada.
As a participant of the pilot, the health department implemented the new Durham Region Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) ahead of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, and will operate throughout the summer until Sept. 30.
The goal is to have full implementation for summer 2016.
The HARS pilot will consist of three public notifications: a heat warning, an extreme heat warning, and a termination notification once the warning has ended. The health department’s website will be updated daily with the current alert status, and news releases and social media updates will be issued when the alert level changes.
“During extreme heat events, there is an increase in heat-related illness and death,” says Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham Region medical officer of health in a release. “Heat-related illnesses are largely preventable, given appropriate notification and interventions,” he adds.
Extreme heat poses a significant health risk to the residents of Durham. Epidemiological evidence from recent extreme heat events in Canada, as well as internationally, has demonstrated a link between heat and excess morbidity and mortality. Heat-related illnesses are largely preventable, given appropriate notification and interventions.
The key elements of this pilot are to communicate heat warnings to local municipalities, community partners, and the public; to raise awareness about heat-related illness; promote protective actions to take before and during a heat event; to identify, engage and support community partners who work with vulnerable populations that are not at an increased risk from heat and heat-related illnesses; and to work with local municipalities to improve and support their heat response plans.
The criterion for the heat and extreme heat warnings was established by Environment Canada, Health Canada, and Public Health Ontario, with input from Ontario public health units.
A heat warning will occur when the forecast conditions include a daytime high of 31 C or greater, and a nighttime low of 20 C or greater, or a humidex level of 40 or greater over a two-day period.
An extreme heat warning will occur when the forecast conditions are the same as a heat warning, but with conditions lasting over a three-day period.
Environment Canada monitors the weather conditions and provides heat alert information to public health units. When the health department receives notification that the criteria for a heat warning have been met, a public notification will be issued to the region, as well as alert community organizations that work with heat vulnerable populations.
In addition, area municipalities will also be notified and may implement local support services, as appropriate.
For more information about Durham Region HARS, visit www.durham.ca/heat or contact the Environmental Help Line at 1-888-777-9613 or 905-723-3818.