Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year. In fact, on average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. In the disastrous heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the heat wave of 1995, more than 700 deaths in the Chicago area were attributed to heat. In August 2003, a record heat wave in Europe claimed an estimated 50,000 lives.
Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Also, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the “urban heat island effect.”
A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don’t take the proper precautions.
Before Extreme Heat
Store at least one month’s supply of water. A normally active person needs at least one gallon of water daily just for drinking however individual needs vary, depending on age, physical condition, activity, diet, and how extreme the heat wave will be.
Store at least one month’s supply of food. Choose salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content. In addition to these, it is highly recommended that you get some MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat), freeze-dried and dehydrated foods which are light, easy to transport, and last up to 25 years. Avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Keep in mind that an average adult consumes 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day.
A basic emergency kit should contain (at least) the following items:
Good quality full tang knife or lockable blade pocket knife
Battery-powered or hand crank radio
Flashlight and extra batteries
First aid kit
Whistle to signal for help
Dust mask to help filter contaminated air
Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
Emergency blanket or bivy
Emergency tarp or tent
Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
Manual can opener for food
Cell phone with chargers, inverter, or solar charger
Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together, and what you will do in case of an emergency. Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood. Know your community’s warning systems and disaster plans, including evacuation routes.
Install window air conditioners snugly; insulate if necessary.
Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
Keep storm windows up all year.
Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes.
First Aid Training
Learn how to treat heat-related emergencies like dehydration, sunstroke, and severe sunburn.
During Extreme Heat
Listen to NOAA Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).
Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.
Postpone outdoor games and activities.
Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.
Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
Drink plenty of water; even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restricted diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
Protect your face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.
Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
Avoid extreme temperature changes.
Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).