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Policy reforms may save lives in the next heat dome, but so can the community, experts say.

Article author:

The Canadian Press

Canadian news agency

Dirk Meissner

A man plays a guitar in the shade at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 28, 2021, during the heat dome event that set temperature records across the province.
A man plays the guitar 2021 On June 28, 2014, a heat dome event was held in the shade of Oppenheimer Park on the downtown east side of Vancouver, British Columbia, which set temperature records for the entire state.Photo courtesy of DARRYL DYC ​​K/Canadian news agency

Victoria — She is a firefighter Died in my arms.

A 96-year-old woman recalls the impact of last summer's heat dome disaster on vulnerable populations in British Columbia, in memory of Coquitlam Fire Department Chief Jim Ogrov. .. Columbia.

"She was old and she was clearly in a lot of pain," Ogrov said, with the efforts of officers attending an emergency call to a women's townhouse in late June 2021. I recalled.

"They tried to cool her-they couldn't carry her because she had such a frail figure," he said, and she went to the hospital. Her woman died before being taken. She was one of more than 600 people who died in BC. With a weekly heat wave of historic size.

Their legacy of death can be seen in the various policies and proposals that have been introduced since then to mitigate such disasters in the future, such as heat warning systems and calls for a review of building codes. increase. But the deaths of so many vulnerable and single inhabitants, like the women Ogrov's officers tried to save, also show an important role for social ties.

"We need a community. Let's say that," said Kim McGrail, a professor of population data at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health. Participated in the BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel, which released this month's report and recommendations on the fatal consequences of the heat dome. The

strategy should include both governmental institutions and the compassion of neighbors looking for each other to succeed. Officials and health and community experts agree.

"I think pragmatism is one of the most important things we should rely on here," said Dr. Jatinder Baidwan, Chief Medical Health Officer at BC Coroners Services. Said at a press conference announcing a review of. Panel report.

In the last week of June 2021, temperatures exceeded 40 ° C in most of the state when high-pressure systems trapped hot blankets throughout the state.

Most of the 619 victims identified by the death review were elderly or vulnerable people living alone in unair-conditioned buildings, it said. 98% died indoors and most lived in socially or materially disadvantaged situations.

Human Rights Watch, an international advocate investigating abuse around the world, said in a report in October 2021 that inadequate government support puts the risk of persons with disabilities and the elderly at risk. Exacerbated, he said, contributed by the lack of a state thermal action plan. To the possibility of unnecessary suffering and death.

In response to a disaster, B. C. This month, the government announced a two-stage thermal response system. This includes public awareness and preparation programs, as well as emergency heat alerts broadcast to mobile devices.

Alerts are sent via Amber Alerts and the national Alert Ready system already used to issue tsunami, wildfire and flood warnings. Minister of Public Security Mike Fernworth.

The Death Review Board had three main recommendations. Adjusted thermal alarm response system and emergency protocol. Plans to identify, identify and support those who are at greatest risk of dying in a hot emergency. Implementation of long-term fever prevention and mitigation strategies.

This includes reviewing the rebate plan for home cooling equipment and changing building codes to require cooling design.

On Monday, the Government of British Columbia also announced a $ 513 million climate response and adaptation strategy to prepare and protect people and communities from wildfires and floods.

Baidwan said last year's heat wave was not taken seriously enough by officials and individuals. "We are all guilty of that," he said.

Ogrov, who was also a member of the Death Judging Committee, is B. C. Recognizing the effects of heat waves, we are "going in the right direction."

Ogrov said 14 people died in Coquitlam due to an emergency.

He recalled an emergency response system that was stretched to near the limit, where the fire department received more than twice the emergency calls normally made over the weekend of June.

"When resources are pulled out in an unprecedented extreme way, some cracks begin to appear and you can see how they overwhelm the system. "Ogloff said.

He said the emotional sacrifices of the rescuers were traumatic.

"It costs an incredible sacrifice to the first responder community because they know there are people in desperate need of help, but avoiding it is Not much, "he said.

"emphasizes the importance of first responder communities, police, fire and ambulances and how important it is for them all to work together as they are interrelated. I think, "says Ogloff.

He said the new emergency response system would prepare the state to face the next heat dome, what to do, and the danger of a thermal emergency reaching as many people as possible. He said he believed that he would get a harmonious message.

Professor McGrail said that the effectiveness of the new preparatory plan could not be evaluated until the next hot emergency.

"It's hard to tell how bad it was, but the fact that coroner services have identified more than 600 people who died as a direct result of the heat dome surprised us. It was enough evidence that she was killed, "she said.

McGrail said the Death Review Board's report "has a lot of will and intent to make sure there is a clear plan for the response and ways to coordinate it."

According to the report, 67% of those who died were over 70 years old and 90% were over 60 years old.

McGrail said the preparatory plan needs to focus on these places. People are alive, aware of the dangers they face, and contact their friends, neighbors and loved ones. McGrail said he advised him to take.

"We need to make sure we're checking in. We don't want to underestimate our ability to bring the community together and help each other," she said. ..

McGrail pointed out the importance of data analysis and identified the areas of highest risk.

British Columbia's mayor, the Rowan Barge Poverty Reduction Union, said the state needs to secure access to a cooling center.

She said that some people couldn't leave the building to the cooling center during the heat dome due to mobility issues, and some people were outdoors for the COVID-19 pandemic. Said he refused the adventure to.

She helps people go to a cooling center or secure a cool place to go to where they live by traveling for free in a hot emergency. Said.

"Shelter-like places (single room hotels), all of these places need air-conditioned space in the building for people to access, but not in the last heat. Waves. "

The Death Judge's report should consider issuing a cooling system to those at risk by December 1. I am asking for. She could have used her own air conditioner during the heat dome. But it was the support of her friends that helped her get over it.

She said the insulin she received through her pump weakened as it got hotter, her blood sugar spiked and she couldn't cool.

"I'm a renter and live in an unair-conditioned apartment. In fact, for a few days in the apartment I didn't know how sick I was," Barge said. increase. "It must have been in the 40's because it was just brutal."

"My brain was functioning and the brain fog was at a level I had never experienced at that time.

Due to her chronic illness and pandemic, Barge was trying to leave the crowd and public places.

In the end, she said her friend took her into a cool bath and took her to an air-conditioned location.

We need to do more to prepare for the next emergency, Barge said.

"I really strongly believe that we are not doing enough. Even if there is a heat wave tomorrow or next week, we are ready and ready to actually take care of it. I don't think it's properly people's, "she said.

This report by Canadian Press was first published on June 26, 2020

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