B.C. municipalities prepare for another week of high temperatures a month after deadly heat dome

·3 min read
Water is handed out near an overdose prevention site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Tuesday. Municipalities like the City of Vancouver are updating their heat response plans after criticism. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
Water is handed out near an overdose prevention site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Tuesday. Municipalities like the City of Vancouver are updating their heat response plans after criticism. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

Some B.C. municipalities are changing their heat-wave management plans, including potentially keeping cooling centres open overnight, as unseasonably high temperatures hit Metro Vancouver once again this week.

Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for Metro Vancouver, Howe Sound, Sunshine Coast, Fraser Valley and eastern Vancouver Island. It also issued a special weather statement for a large swath of the province beyond that. Temperatures are expected to peak at around 30 C Wednesday to Saturday on the South Coast.

It comes a month after an unprecedented heat dome hit B.C. and a subsequent spike in sudden deaths in the province, with the record-breaking heat cited as a "significant contributing factor" for as many as 815 deaths.

Municipalities in the region including Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby are updating their plans for future extreme heat events after some criticism that responses last month had significant gaps.

"I don't think there was a complete plan in place prior to that heat dome that we had. … The city did the best they could under short notice," said Carol-Ann Flanagan of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby.

Flanagan was part of a committee that had been working on an extreme weather heat plan since March and presented it to Burnaby's council on Monday.

Her presentation emphasized the importance of pop-up cooling centres during heat waves and she's hopeful that plans will be in place "very soon" to allow for more.

"Had there not been any kind of cooling space, I know that there would have been more death for our homeless population [during the heat wave]," she said.

Cooling centres may run overnight

Vancouver and the three North Shore municipalities are considering keeping cooling centres open overnight to deal with a potential emergency.

"For the temperatures that we are expected to see, in the high 20s and low 30s, North Shore Emergency Management has worked with the municipalities and determined that there is not a need to open overnight cooling centres at this point," said Michaela Garstin, communications adviser for West Vancouver.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"If the situation should change, there is a plan in place to open cooling centres with 24/7 capacity if needed."

Daniel Stevens, Vancouver's director of emergency management, said there was a possibility of extending hours at cooling centres and staff were working to implement changes immediately following last month's heat dome.

"The city will issue an information bulletin to media to clarify what supports are available later this week," he said.

'British Columbians should be vigilant'

Provincial officials were proactive with communication ahead of temperatures peaking this week.

"British Columbians should be vigilant, watch for warnings and take steps to stay safe during extreme heat," Mike Farnworth, the minister of Public Safety, said Tuesday in a statement.

For New Westminster Coun. Patrick Johnstone, the response to the heat wave was a "cascading" failure at all levels of government.

"In hindsight, looking at it, there were flaws in how we as a city responded to that emergency," he said. "And there are potential learnings for how the city and how the province can address this type of emergency in the future."

New Westminster was another municipality, along with Surrey, that ordered staff to study its response to future heat waves this month.

CBC News reached out to other municipalities in the Lower Mainland to see if they were updating their heat wave management plans after last month's heat dome, but did not hear back in time for publication.

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