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, with temperatures expected to peak Wednesday to Saturday.
It comes a month after an unprecedented heat dome hit B.C. and a subsequent spike in sudden deaths in the province, with the heat cited as a “significant contributing factor” for as many as 815 deaths.
“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 from 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, presenting it to Burnaby’s council on Monday.
Her presentation emphasized the importance of pop-up cooling centres during heat waves and is 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.
“If the situation should change, there is a plan in place to open cooling centres with 24/7 capacity if needed.”
Daniel Stevens, director of emergency management for the City of Vancouver, said that there was a possibility of extending hours at cooling centres and that 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. Information will also be shared via our social media channels,” 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. And there are potential learnings for how the city and how the province can address this type of emergency in the future,” he said.
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.