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Kamloops’ heat response plan in motion

When a heat warning is issued, the city will staff three indoor cooling sites, including Sandman Centre concourse, Parkview Activity Centre and Valleyview Community Hall
heat vulnerability
This map shows heat vulnerability in Kamloops, with the impact greater among the darker red areas. There are also maps connected to cold, flooding and smoke. The maps can be found on the Interior Health website at climate-resiliency-and-planning.

As summer weather finally settles into the Tournament Capital — the mercury is set to inch into the low 30s on June 26 and June 27 before temperatures retreat — city council has heard cooling sites, neighbour health checks and transportation will be part of the city’s heat response plan.

Last week, city staff presented details of that plan, following a provincial pilot project announced in the wake of extreme heat last year that claimed the lives of 595 British Columbians, including 17 people in Kamloops, where on June 29, 2021, the temperature reached a record-setting 47.3 C.

City of Kamloops social, housing and community development manager Carmin Mazzotta explained Kamloops falls under the southeast region of B.C.’s heat response alert system. Criteria for a heat warning (level one) is a forecast of a daytime high greater than or equal to 35 C and an overnight low greater than or equal to 18 C forecast for two consecutive days. Heat warnings are considered moderate risk to public health and are expected one to three times per summer.

An extreme heat emergency (level two) will be issued when the heat warning criteria has been met and forecasts indicate daily highs will substantially increase for three or more consecutive days. Extreme heat emergencies are considered very high public health risk and are expected once or twice every 10 years.

When a heat warning is issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the city will staff three indoor cooling sites, including Sandman Centre concourse, Parkview Activity Centre and Valleyview Community Hall.

Waterparks, drinking fountains and washrooms with potable water will also be available. The city may in the future add permanent misting stations (temporary ones have been previously vandalized), hydration stations and water bottle refill connections in city washrooms.

The city also plans to promote neighbour health checks during heat events, with residents asked to check on their neighbours who are vulnerable due to age, pre-existing health conditions or other reasons and may not have air-conditioning. Residents will be asked to check for signs of heat distress and be provided with appropriate actions. Mazzotta said health checks are new this year and stem from provincial recommendations in the wake of the heat dome.

“What this is about is in response to the fact that 98 per cent of folks who passed away during the heat dome last year died indoors,” Mazzotta said.

He noted People in Motion is working with the city on a transportation initiative for people who are isolated in their homes, such as seniors, people with chronic health conditions and others.

Coun. Denis Walsh suggested service groups in Kamloops could identify residents without a basic air conditioner, providing one to them at a low cost.

Coun. Sadie Hunter noted a lack of overnight cooling centre options available in the plan, while Coun. Dale Bass said old buildings remain hot through the night. Coun. Mike O’Reilly pointed to gaps in cooling station availability — Valleyview Community Hall is closed on on Sundays and does not have any outdoor cooling options. Mazzotta said permanent fixtures could be added in the neighbourhood in the future.

Coun. Arjun Singh expressed concern about cooling centres relying on volunteers and asked what it would take to ensure such facilities would open when needed.

“It’s the same as when it’s minus-30 outside, in my view,” he said.

The report to council states: “Subject to volunteer recruitment efforts and staff availability, the city’s intent is to open and staff indoor cooling sites and ensure drinking water is available noon to 8 p.m. daily during heat alert response activations.”

Staff noted concern is the city could already be a host community co-ordinating emergency support services, with staffing stretched. Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian suggested a conversation with Emergency Management BC and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

Christian also questioned why the coroner updated Kamloops-area deaths during the heat dome from the original six to 17.

“It’s a significant difference,” he said.

Environment Canada’s forecast for Kamloops calls for sunny skies through the weekend, with highs of 26 C on Friday (June 24), 29 C on Saturday, 30 C on Sunday and 34 C on Monday. Showers and cooler temperatures (highs in the mid-20s) are expected on Tuesday.