The Regional Municipality of Durham


News Release

Heat Alert Response System launches for Durham Region

WHITBY, ON July 07, 2015 - Durham Region Health Department, along with nine other Ontario public health units, will pilot a new harmonized Heat Alert and Response System, based on new heat warning information provided by Environment Canada. As a participant of this pilot, the Health Department will implement the new Durham Region Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) ahead of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. Durham Region HARS will operate throughout the summer until Sept. 30, with a goal of full implementation for summer 2016.

The Durham Region 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," explained Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham Region Medical Officer of Health. "Heat-related illnesses are largely preventable, given appropriate notification and interventions."

To assist area residents in taking protective action, the Durham Region HARS will alert the public about heat events, direct community response and outreach to vulnerable populations, and provide individuals with information on how to prevent heat-related illnesses.

The heat warning and extreme heat warning criterion was established by Environment Canada, Health Canada and Public Health Ontario, with input from Ontario public health units. A heat warning will happen 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 occurs 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, the Health Department will issue a public notification, as well as alert community organizations that work with heat vulnerable populations. These organizations are in an ideal position to deploy strategies that may help mitigate and control the risks of heat exposure. In addition, area municipalities will also be notified and may implement local support services, as appropriate. Environment Canada will also provide notification to public health units when a heat warning has ended.

For further information about Durham Region HARS, visit durham.ca/heat or contact the Environmental Help Line at 1-888-777-9613 or 905-723-3818.

Backgrounder - Durham Region Heat Alert and Response System

What is the Durham Region Heat Alert and Response System (HARS)

Environment Canada is providing new heat warning information to Ontario public health units. Durham Region Health Department, along with nine other Ontario public health units, will pilot a harmonized Heat Alert and Response System. As a participant of this pilot, the Health Department will implement the new Durham Region Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) ahead of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. Durham Region HARS will operate throughout the summer until Sept 30, with a goal of full implementation for summer 2016.

Extreme heat (e.g., high temperatures and humidity levels) poses a significant health risk to Durham Region residents. 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 initiative are:

What are the Heat Warning levels for HARS?

The heat warning levels for Durham Region HARS include a heat warning and an extreme heat warning. A heat warning happens 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 occurs when the forecast conditions are the same as a heat warning, but with conditions lasting over a three-day period.

Heat Warning Indicator Gauge

The following images will be posted on durham.ca/heat to communicate the current warning status. A brief message below the warning image will describe the current conditions and forecast. Current and forecast weather conditions for your area will be posted on Environment Canada's website at weather.gc.ca.

HARS Scales

Heat Warning

In May 2015, Environment Canada adopted the new Ontario harmonized HARS protocol to issue heat warnings for Ontario. Heat warnings will be issued 12 to 18 hours in advance by the Ontario Storm Prediction Centre (OSPC), when the OSPC is confident that there will be two consecutive days of weather that will meet the threshold criteria. Environment Canada will inform the Health Department that a heat warning has been issued. When heat warnings are issued, the Health Department will make the public aware by:

Extreme Heat Warning

Health Canada and Public Health Ontario have identified that an extreme heat warning level is an important alert level to further protect the public and vulnerable populations. During extreme heat warnings, local municipalities and community partners may mobilize or enhance their existing response to help mitigate the added risk of an extreme heat warning event. An extreme heat warning criterion is the same as a heat warning except the duration of the heat event is forecasted to last three or more days. Environment Canada does not issue extreme heat warnings – Environment Canada continues to issue only heat warnings.

The Health Department will communicate a heat warning on the first day of a forecasted extreme heat event (three or more days) prior to declaring an extreme heat warning; an extreme heat warning occurs on day two and every day after the initial heat warning. An extreme heat warning may also be issued at the discretion of the Health Department when other extenuating factors are present during a heat event such as, in the case of a large-scale power outage occurring during a heat event.

What additional measures are available to local municipalities and community partners?

Environment Canada will provide early notification to the Health Department indicating that conditions are forecasted to meet the heat alert criteria. Environment Canada's early notification will be provided each day, two to four days in advance of the heat event. Within Environment Canada's early notification, expected conditions and duration of these conditions will be identified.

Health Canada and Public Health Ontario have identified that even a one day heat event may be detrimental to the heat vulnerable population. Therefore, an added Heat Advisory level was created for municipalities and community partners. Community partners that work with the heat vulnerable groups are at an ideal position to employ strategies that may help mitigate and control the risks of heat exposure. The Health Department will provide this information to community partners that have signed up to receive alerts, email notices of Environment Canada's heat event notifications, advisories and warnings. This information will allow community partners to better prepare for the upcoming heat event.

Who is at risk for extreme heat?

Extreme heat can put everyone at risk from heat illness; however, there are many risk factors that can increase a person's vulnerability to heat. These factors can be compounded when there are multiple risk factors present. For example, a senior citizen living alone who is on medication that could have an effect on heat sensitivity could be at greater risk than a person having only one of these risk factors. Heat vulnerable populations include older adults; infants and young children; people with chronic illnesses, such as breathing difficulties, heart conditions, or mental illnesses (e.g., depression or dementia); people who work in the heat; people who exercise in the heat; homeless people; and, low-income earners.

What symptoms of illness should I look for in extreme heat conditions?

Watch for symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, nausea or vomiting, headaches, rapid breathing and heartbeat, and extreme thirst. For more symptoms of illness, visit durham.ca/heat. What can I do to protect my health and the health of my family when it's very hot?

Heat-related illnesses are preventable. Residents can prepare for heat in advance by tuning in to local weather forecasts and alerts, arranging for regular visits with family and neighbours, and by finding simply ways to keep your home cool in the summer. For more tips, visit durham.ca/heat.

What is the local municipality's response to heat?

Currently, each municipality within Durham Region has their own unique response to heat. As we move forward, the Health Department will continue to engage with local municipalities as they further develop their heat response plans. Local residents are encouraged to contact their municipality to inquire about local heat response plans.

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Media inquiries:

Regional Municipality of Durham:
Glendene Collins - Health Department, 905-668-7711 ext. 2999 

For more information, please contact Health Department.