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Province taking action to help people stay safe, cool

By The Canadian Press

Published 2:52 PDT, Fri May 31, 2024

With warmer temperatures on the way and weather experts forecasting a hot summer, the province and public-health officials are taking several steps to help people stay safe this summer and are asking people to plan ahead.

The province is:

  • expanding the Free Portable Air Conditioner (AC) program to reach 19,000 more eligible households;
  • supporting further improvements to long-term care and assisted living homes to protect seniors from climate impacts through a $6-million grant to the BC Care Providers Association’s EquipCare BC program; and
  • adding extreme heat warnings to highway signs to inform people about expected extreme heat events, similar to wildfire, construction and road safety messaging.

The province has also developed new guidelines to clarify rules around installing AC units and better support renters and landlords to work together to safely install AC units, where possible.

“With the forecast for a hot summer ahead, now is the time to take steps to prepare yourself and your family so you can be safe and ready for potential impacts of extreme heat and wildfire smoke,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “Poor air quality and excessive heat are growing public-health risks that can have significant impacts on people’s health. We want people to be aware of the potential for extreme summer weather and know what actions they can take to stay safe and manage and reduce risk.”

The BC Heat Alert Response System (HARS) has been developed and recently updated by a group of public-health, emergency-management and climate-readiness professionals. BC HARS is a two-tier heat-alert and response system that issues notices for heat warnings and extreme-heat emergencies to provide important information to people in B.C.

“Taking action to ensure the safety and quality of care for our seniors is a top priority for this government,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “That’s why we are providing additional funding to EquipCare BC to support publicly subsidized assisted living and long-term care homes in finding solutions that will mitigate climate impacts on our most vulnerable seniors who live in care.”

The province is providing a $6-million grant to extend the BC Care Providers Association’s EquipCare BC program for improvement to long-term care and assisted-living homes. The investment will enhance the living environment of these facilities by installing infection control, air and water-quality temperature-control equipment, such as air conditioning, blinds and electrical upgrades necessary to protect seniors from the impacts of recurring extreme weather events and poor air quality due to wildfires. The EquipCare BC program helps long-term care and assisted living facility operators to purchase equipment and technology to enhance the safety and quality of life of seniors.

“We are taking action to ensure that British Columbia’s most vulnerable people are protected from extreme heat caused by climate change,” said Josie Osborne, minister of energy, mines and low carbon innovation. “By tripling funding for the Free Portable Air Conditioner program administered by BC Hydro, we are making it easier for British Columbians to keep their homes and apartments cool this summer.”

Since summer 2023, BC Hydro has provided more than 6,000 free air conditioners to people throughout the province, with thousands more expected to be installed in the coming months through the Free Portable Air Conditioner program. Through $20 million in new funding, BC Hydro expects 19,000 more eligible households will be able to access a free AC unit. In total, BC Hydro expects the program to provide more than 28,000 AC units throughout the province.

To help make sure renters have access to the program, the Residential Tenancy Branch has recently provided more clarity surrounding the installation of AC units. This includes encouraging renters and landlords to work together to safely install AC units, and updated policy clarifying that it is prohibited for landlords to ban AC units in rental agreements without a rational basis or safety concern.

The province, through BC Housing, is working with non-profit housing operators to support making housing safer for residents during times of extreme heat. This includes funding to support non-profit operators to purchase cooling supplies. Additionally, BC Housing has purchased an emergency inventory of cooling and clean-air items, such as 1,530 portable AC units, 2,500 portable fans and 2,500 cooling kits.

The updated BC Building Code also has requirements for all new homes to provide one space that is designed not to exceed 26 C.

This summer, the province will begin to use overhead signs on highways to inform travellers and tourists of expected extreme-heat events in areas throughout the province, similar to wildfire and road safety messaging. The province may also send BC emergency alerts to mobile devices, radio and TV in the event of an extreme-heat emergency. These alerts would be broadcast similar to an Amber Alert to inform people that temperatures are high enough to be dangerous to people’s health and well-being.

Health officials are also warning the first high temperatures of the season can lead some people to overheat because they are not yet accustomed to warmer weather. Older adults and people with chronic health conditions are most susceptible to extreme heat, especially if they live alone. People who are most susceptible should plan to access a cool space or even stay with friends or family who have AC if they cannot stay cool at home.

People are encouraged to begin preparing for hot summer weather and review their own plans for potential extreme-heat emergencies. The province’s PreparedBC Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide includes information about how to prepare for heat and tips about how to stay safe.

In preparation for heat, the province also supports and co-ordinates with communities. The province reimburses eligible costs to local governments and First Nations so they can open community cooling centres where people can go to stay cool. This funding may also be used to transport people to and from cooling centres. Since 2022, 100 local governments and First Nations have received funding to support community cooling centres.

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