The summer of 2021 saw extreme temperatures during late June, followed by heavy smoke from wildfires. The heat dome was hard on many vulnerable residents, and a B.C. Chief Coroners Report states that in B.C. alone, there were 619 heat-related deaths.
The report also shows that 234 — more than a third of those deaths — occurred on a single day, June 29, 2021. A map showing the nearest community to the deaths shows that one fatality occurred in or around Revelstoke.
More than half (56%) of the deceased lived alone, and 8% lived in a community or assisted living situation, the report finds.
In a letter to Revelstoke city council, Revelstoke Community Response Network (RCRN) Coordinator, Laura Stovel, informed and asked for support from the city for their new initiative, planning to better prepare for the next heat wave.
“We don’t know when the next heat wave will hit, but we know that it will come, and we need to be prepared. The RCRN met in late June to begin planning,” Stovel says in the letter. “We shared what we each could contribute in the event of a heat emergency and what a response might look like, including communicating prior to and during the heat wave, creating community cooling centers, providing transportation, organizing check-ins with isolated community members, and distributing cooling devices and water.”
Interior Health has a heat alert and response planning toolkit for interior B.C. communities, published in July 2020, that includes an alert protocol that Stovel aims to use and adapt to the needs of Revelstoke’s community.
The alert plan works like this: The BC Centre for Disease Control and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) establishes an alert trigger when they identify heat-health region-specific weather conditions. The organizations then communicate the potential for a heat warning to Interior Health a few days prior to the heat event, allowing for mobilization of prepared responses. The alert trigger allows Interior Health and other key community partners such as the RCRN to activate their community heat response plans. Interior Health’s toolkit helps organizations develop these plans so the lead agency and community partners in a community can reduce heat-related risks when a heat warning is called.
The RCRN has been working with Taha Attiah, Community Development Coordinator for the City of Revelstoke, to support planning, Stovel says. In addition to funds Stovel applied for and received for 2022 through B.C. Community Response Networks, Attiah has applied for a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) grant for 2023 planning.
The UBCM grant enables more comprehensive planning and coordination of the efforts Stovel mentions in her letter, Attiah says at the July 12 city council meeting.
“Making sure that in the event of extreme heat, there’s a system in place to react and quickly and identify, say through home care employees that those homecare workers are going out and that they’re delivering relevant information,” Attiah says in the meeting. “That there’s a really coordinated community effort to come together.”
The city’s emergency program is operated under the Revelstoke Fire Rescue Service. During the July 12 meeting, council members raised questions as to why the city’s appointed emergency program is not spearheading the heat wave response planning.
“It’s great that the social side is leading this. I’m wondering where our emergency services are. They should be leading it,” says councillor Rob Elliot during the meeting.
Attiah says the grant should be considered a social infrastructure that can be used in other emergency events as a relief system.