The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year”. The year 2014 was the hottest in modern history and more hot weather may well be on the way. Extreme heat and high temperatures can lead to health issues and eventually death if not properly addressed. Young children, older adults, those who are sick and/or overweight are even more likely to succumb to the effects of extreme heat and temperature. There are things one can do now, however, to mitigate against the effects of extreme heat. The following is an introductory guide to doing just that.
Extreme Heat: General Preparation
- Having air conditioning installed at home or place of business is a good starting point. The system must be in good repair and installed properly.
- All air-conditioning ducts should be inspected for proper insulation.
- Do not rely upon fans as a primary source of cooling.
- On a temporary basis, window reflectors can be installed to reflect heat back outside.
- Be sure to cover windows that receive sun with drapes, shades, or other coverings.
- Outdoor awnings or louvers can also reduce the heat significantly.
- Weather-stripping can be installed on doors and window sills to keep cool air in the building.
- During a heat emergency, limit your exposure to the sun as much as possible.
- Cooling showers or baths may be taken to reduce body heat.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water. Hydration is key to survival. For those with medical conditions that require a fluid-restricted diet, consult with your family physician first. Note very cold beverages can lead to stomach cramping.
- Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar should be avoided.
- If possible, have a backup source of water available at all times. A sudden stoppage of the normal supply of water could be catastrophic during an extreme heat event.
- In addition to having backup sources of water, consider obtaining the equipment and skills to filter and purify your own water from natural sources.
- Wear sun screen and appropriate clothing for the weather.
- Be sure to eat a well-balanced, and preferably light, meals during the event.
- If possible, avoid hard work during the hottest part of the day.
- At no time leave small children or animals alone in a closed vehicle. Temperatures in such enclosed spaces can climb from 78° to 120° F in under eight minutes.
- Be sure that any animals you have (e.g., pets, livestock, etc.) have proper shade and access to water.
- If one own a mobile device (e.g., a smartphone, tablet, etc.), consider install the free American Red Cross Emergency App. The app contains information on preparing for and coping during a heat wave. Alternatively, with the proper tools, the free app may also be run on a Mac OS based machine or on Windows based device.
- Be sure to check on people you know, such as friends, family, neighbors, etc., that do not have air conditioning, are elderly, have small children, or have medical conditions that may be adversely effected by extreme heat. Be prepared to render first aid should they require said.
- Stay informed by tuning into the radio or Internet sources for updates on the heat wave.
There are a number of heat-induced illnesses that the reader should be aware of. Some are similar, but each have unique symptoms and treatments. The American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local emergency management organizations, citizens-organized groups (e.g., The American Civil Defense Association, etc.), and others all can provide training for addressing heat-induced illnesses. However, in brief, the conditions that should be noted are:
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion can result in heavy sweating, but the skin may be cool to the touch. Additionally, the victim may have a weak pulse and experience nausea, dizziness, headaches, and vomiting.
Heat exhaustion can be treated by having the victim loosen or remove clothing articles, lie down in a cool place, and apply cool, wet cloths. An air conditioned location is best for treatment. The victim can be given small, even sips of cool water, but no more than half a glass every fifteen minutes. Should vomiting occur, stop administering water, and seek medical treatment immediately.
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are painful spasms that typically occur in the abdominal muscles and legs.
A victim of heat cramps can be treated by moving to a cool location and gently massaging and stretching the affected muscles. As with heat exhaustion, small sips of water can be administered, but must be stopped if the victim feels nauseated. When in doubt, seek medical treatment.
Sunburn: Sunburn usually manifests with skin redness, irritation, and pain. Blisters and swelling may also be present. Secondary symptoms include headaches, fever, and disorientation.
Mild sunburns can be treated by taking a cool shower. If blistering occurs, apply sterile, dry dressings and seek medical attention.
Heat Stroke: Heat strokes is a very serious medical condition in which the victim’s temperature control system stops working. It can feature high body temperatures (105°+ F), a rapid and weak pulse, and shallow breathing. If a victim is exhibiting these signs, do not administer water and do not delay in calling 9-1-1 or other emergency medical services. A delay may prove fatal. Until medical help arrives, the victim can be moved to a cool location and remove unnecessary clothing. The victim’s should be monitored for breathing problems.
The preceding has been a short introductory guide to the topic of extreme heat. Additional material may be accessed in the sources listed below. If the reader wishes to discuss extreme heat preparation, or other disaster related topics, the free Disaster.com forum is available here. Sign up is quick and easy.
- Extreme Heat Prevention Guide – Part 1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
- NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record
- Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 118-119). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
- Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 85-92). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
- Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. (2011, June 20). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html
- Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
- TACDA ACADEMY – CIVIL DEFENSE BASICS 1 9. WATER PURIFICATION. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_9Water.pdf
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- Rosdahl, C., & Kowalski, M. (2008). Textbook of Basic Nursing (9th ed., pp. 465-466). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Schwartz, R. (2008). Tactical Emergency Medicine (pp. 84-87). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Heat and alcohol–a dangerous combination. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/ade70528.page
- Extreme Heat. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/heat
- Sunburn | Doctor | Patient.co.uk. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/sunburn
- (2013, June 10). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
- Extreme Heat Tip Sheet for Individuals. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/heat/tips.pdf