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B.C. expands Alert Ready system to provide heat warnings


B.C. is expanding the Alert Ready system’s use in the province to provide heat warnings and declare extreme heat emergencies.

The move comes after the province and municipalities were criticized following the deaths of nearly 600 British Columbians due to oppressive temperatures.

Mar Dufor remembers last year's heat -- vividly -- saying it was a "very difficult" weekend.

The senior lives in an apartment with no air conditioning and told CTV News she did her best to keep cool.

"I did have a fan that I took from room to room," said Dufor.

Her daughter-in-law, Irene, said she was worried about Dufor but also for young children. She went to Prince George when the mercury hit 37 C.

"I think there need to be heat alerts," she added.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced Monday the province will use the Alert Ready system to warn when there are sustained high temperatures or an extreme heat emergency is declared.

"There will be much more notification, much more 'in the media' if you like and much more communication with local governments," he told reporters in Victoria.

The two-step system means a first alert would go out when the temperature rises above what's normal for the region, and would sync up with Environment Canada.

According to a news release, the criteria for the first alert is when there are two or more consecutive days in which the maximum daytime temperature is above the threshold. The province said the alert for a heat warning would go out when there's a moderate increase in the risk. The province expects this type of alert may go out up to three times a summer.

A second extreme heat emergency may be declared when the risk is high to the public, and the max daytime temperatures are above the threshold for three days or more. The government thinks this type of alert may occur twice in a decade.

Regional temperature thresholds are as follows:

  • Southwest: daytime high of 29 C, nighttime low of 16 C
  • Fraser: daytime high of 33 C, nighttime low of 17 C
  • Southeast (Largely interior region of B.C.): daytime high of 35 C, nighttime low of 18 C
  • Northeast: daytime high of 29 C, nighttime low of 14 C
  • Northwest: daytime high of 28 C, nighttime low of 13 C

Alert Ready is a national system that is currently used for amber alerts and soon will be used for flood and fire warnings in the province, as well.

Critics point out during last year's extreme heat, the ambulance service was overwhelmed. Health Minister Adrian Dix insisted the service is more prepared this year than last, and that in addition to more staff being added, how emergency service providers are staffed during emergencies is changing.

"We've learned some of the lessons of what happened last year in terms of improvements in terms of how we move staff around in cases of emergencies," he said.

Many of those who died were seniors, and advocates believe those who lived at home, didn't have air conditioners, or had mobility issues were most at risk. The public safety minister says funding is also being provided to cities to map who's at highest risk and to figure out how to get them help.

Shirley Bond, the Opposition's health critic, said she wants the province to act quickly to help those most vulnerable.

"How do people who are elderly and frail living alone, how do they get the kind of support they need? What if they're on a fixed income? So you know, we need to continue to see measures that are going to close the gaps that were exposed last year."

More recommendations are expected Tuesday when the coroners service releases an in-depth report through a death review panel. That will examine the circumstances surrounding last year's heat deaths and how to prevent them in the future. Top Stories

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