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Heat Warning System
During the 20th century, in Australia, heatwaves caused more deaths than any other natural hazard. In 1939 alone, a heatwave in southern Australia caused 438 deaths and seriously affected many thousands.
In the summer of 2009, an exceptional heatwave affected south-eastern Australia with temperatures that reached their highest levels since at least 1939. Widespread very hot conditions began to develop in the southeast from 27 January and continued for approximately two weeks. In Adelaide the maximum temperature reached 45.7C. Noteworthy, studies found that during this prolonged period of extremely hot conditions, the morbidity and mortality increased (Figure 1)1 and an estimated 58 heat related deaths were recorded2.
Figure 1. Correlation between temperature and mortality during the heatwave in South Australia, 2009.
Both the frequency and intensity of extreme heat days will increase as a consequence of Climate Change. This emphasizes the role of the extreme heat planning within Local Government's (LG’s) Climate Change Adaptation strategies.
The aim of this extreme heat guide is to inform Local Governments in SA about:
State Extreme Heat Plan
Triggers for the activation of extreme heat arrangements
Legislative context as it applies to Local Government
Local Government role during extreme heat planning
Vulnerable persons that may need more support during extreme heat events
Bushfire danger rating
Since LG’s are often well aware of local demographics, manage local community facilities/ services and represent the closest level of government to communities, they are of high importance during extreme heat. This guide will provide some advice on the role of Councils during extreme heat.
State Extreme Heat Plan
Key South Australian Government departments, led by the State Emergency Service (SASES) as the Hazard Leader for Extreme Weather under State Emergency Management arrangements, have worked together to prepare an Extreme Heat Arrangements Annex to the Extreme Weather Hazard Plan which ensures a coordinated approach to increasing community preparedness, awareness and response to extreme heat events.
The aim of the Extreme Heat Arrangements3, 4 is for government agencies to work together to effectively deliver timely and accurate advice and support to the South Australian community.
Triggers for the activation of the Extreme Heat Arrangements
The trigger for providing advice to the public about the risk of an extreme heat event commences with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) temperature predictions. Throughout the summer, the SES works closely with the BOM on a daily basis to predict the average daily temperature (ADT) and initiate appropriate action.
The Extreme Heat Arrangements trigger points for various actions are based on a formula using the average daily temperature (ADT). The average daily temperature is calculated by dividing the total of the maximum day and the minimum overnight temperature by two. The messages are issued as in Table 1:
Table 1: Extreme heat arrangement trigger points for Adelaide
When is message issued?
Extreme Heat Watch
ADT > 29C* (e.g. average of 36C and 22C) for 3 or more consecutive days.
48 – 72 hours in advance of an event to give advance notice of the possibility of excessively hot conditions.
Extreme Heat Warning
ADT > 32C* (e.g. average of 40C and 24C) for 3 or more consecutive days.
0-48 hours in advance of an Extreme heat event that is expected to last 3 days or more.
* These temperature thresholds are based on the correlation and analysis between temperature and health4, as also depicted in Figure 1.
It is recommended that Councils adopt these same triggers for any response they are intending to make. That is at the “watch” stage they prepare for the event and at the “warning” stage they commence implementation of their plan.
When an ADT of 32C or above is predicted for three or more consecutive days the SES will issue an Extreme Heat Warning to the public via media release where practical up to 24 hours in advance of the event.
The Extreme Heat Warning messages will be posted to the following websites:
Bureau of Meteorology www.bom.gov.au
State Emergency Service www.ses.sa.gov.au
Following the heatwave from 2009 in South Australia, the Heat Warning System (HWS) was developed5. The HWS has a whole–of–government approach and is led by the State Emergency Service (SASES) as the Hazard Leader for Extreme Weather under State Emergency Management arrangements. Table 2 summarizes the lead agencies, trigger factors for extreme heat and the type of interventions that should be activated as part of the HWS. The HWS is activated by SASES once trigger factors for the Extreme Heat Warning are reached. Programs for those who are more vulnerable (see section 7&9) are activated and all people are warned and informed via media announcements from the SASES.
Table 2:Extreme Heat Warning in Adelaide, SA: description of the program interventions (adapted from 5(Nitschke et al., 2016))
SA State Emergency Service (SES) is advised by Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). SES informs other agencies with one lead day.
3 day rolling forecast of daily average (minimum and maximum temperatures divided by two) temperatures (ADT)
Threshold for an extreme heat warning is reached when ADT is 32C or above (e.g. 40C daytime and 24C night time)
Before/start of summer and ongoing:
General heat health advice before summer.
Heat plan review of all relevant government and non-government agencies.
Meeting of all agencies before the summer season to discuss co-ordination issues.
Collaborative Research agenda
During the alert:
Activation of specific and co-ordinated extreme heat plans (Local government, state government and non-government), see examples:
Public alerts and advice through media
Continuous review of emergency, ambulance and other clinical response capabilities in the health sector.
Australian Red Cross provision of free support calls to registered vulnerable people.
Legislative Context as it applies to Local Government
A number of Acts envisage a possible role for Local Government in extreme heat planning:
Local Government Act 1999
Work Health and Safety Act 2012
SA Public Health Act 2011
Emergency Management Act 2004 through the State Emergency Management Plan.
Local Government Role in Extreme Heat Planning
Councils when considering their role in extreme heat planning should manage their participation to an extent that is reasonable within their circumstances.
The primary role of Local Government should be to promote community awareness and education about the dangers of heat stress and the measures that can be adopted to mitigate the effect. This includes reinforcement of the health messages promoted by appropriate Government agencies such as the SASES and the Department of Health. Refer to:
The State Emergency website: http://www.ses.sa.gov.au/site/community_safety/heatsafe/extreme_heat_plan.jsp
The SA Health website: http://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+topics+a+-+z/heat
The Telecross REDi service supports people by regularly calling registered people during heatwaves. Telecross REDi is activated by the South Australian Department for Communities & Social Inclusion when an extreme weather event is declared. More information is available at:
The Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) program offers a well-planned and organised assistance program for older people and the disabled to receive aged care and support services in their home, which helps them to stay independent. More information is available at: http://marion.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/HACC-Service-Principles.pdf
The Telecross REDi program through Red Cross and the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) program (previously HACC) are in place to help people who are more vulnerable during extreme heat (see also section 9). Councils should complement and support these existing programs but not be a provider of duplicate services.
The SASES in the State Extreme Heat Plan does not recommend the establishment of specific “cooling centres” by State, Local Government or community groups. However the extension of operating or opening hours of existing facilities and services is encouraged. If Councils choose this option they should clearly indicate that it is the extension of an existing service and not create a community perception that additional services are being offered.
Councils may choose to make community facilities such as community centres, libraries, theatres, halls, swimming centres and sports stadiums available during extreme heat events but in doing so should recognize that there may be significant cost and risk issues involved.
Any decision should carefully consider the logistics associated with management of the facilities such as staffing, security, medical assistance, public liability, infrastructure and air- conditioning, maintenance, cleaning, catering, amenities and hygiene etc.
If Councils elect to extend the operating hours of existing facilities and services they should consult with LGA MLS about the management of risk associated with the extended service being offered. The LGA MLS has a checklist that will assist Councils to manage this risk. Annexure A outlines the issues that will be addressed.
Heatwaves & extreme heat, silent killers?
“Heatwaves & extreme heat are not associated with violent weather such as tornadoes, cyclones or severe thunderstorms. However, they can result in significant stress on vulnerable people. This stress may result in death during the heat event but in many cases this can occur well after the cessation of the heatwave.
Often the cause of death during a heatwave is difficult to determine with many people who succumb often having pre-existing conditions”
Available at http://www.bom.gov.au/weather-services/about/heatwave-forecast.shtml To be selective about the access and usage of community facilities during an extreme heat event could attract liability risks to Council. Councils need to acknowledge that if they offer Council facilities during extreme heat events they will need to be made available to the community at large.
The State Government through the Department of Families and Communities is the principle agency responsible for vulnerable persons in the community. Local Government should be wary of assuming a lead role in this area, but should offer its support and assistance.
The heat can affect anyone, but some people are of greater risk of serious harm. The list of vulnerable persons includes, but may not be limited to, the following67:
Elderly people (65 years and older)
Babies and young children under 5 years
People with a pre-existing medical condition (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease)
Moreover, vulnerability is not limited to the groups mentioned above, depending on the circumstances, all people can be at risk of vulnerability. Local Governments should be aware of vulnerable groups in their jurisdiction.
Figure 2: SA Health Infographic available at: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/ People living in caravans for example, or those living in poor quality housing, are also at greater risk of harm from extreme heat8.
The provision of specific assistance or services to defined “vulnerable persons” during an extreme heat event is also provided by organisations such as Red Cross through the Telecross REDi program.
SA Health provides useful information in the form of an Infographic on tips to stay healthy in the heat (Figure 2).
Bushfire Danger Rating
Extreme Heat planning by Local Government should not occur in isolation but should include appropriate consideration of issues associated with Council staff performing work in high bushfire risk areas on high fire danger days. This is a particularly important aspect if consideration is being given to opening Council facilities to the public on high fire danger days.
A Country Fire Service (CFS) message to leave home early to avoid a fire threat must take precedence over a SASES message to stay at home for refuge from an extreme heat event.
The health and safety of personnel is paramount during extreme heat events where risks of fatigue and heat related illness such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke is evident. Councils should conduct appropriate risk assessments to ensure the safety of their staff.
Heat poses different risks for different types of workers. A study which explored the relation between the total amount of workers’ compensation claims and the temperature, found that number of injury claims increased with temperature up to a turning point of 37.7C9. Although heat-related illnesses at work seem to be underreported, it is clear that extreme heat increases the risk for heat-stress and other heat-related illnesses10. Several types of work environments pose a greater risk for workers, these include manual work, work outdoors (e.g farming, mining, construction, military and fire services) and indoor work around process-generated heat (e.g bakeries). In the aforementioned sectors, male workers, particularly those aged ≤ 24 years have been reported to be at increased risk but more studies are needed in this area. Managers should identify risks in their work environments and possibly adapt work places.
Good management and work environments which support and encourage Council staff to be cautious and mindful about their own wellbeing may help to keep heat-related occupational illness and injuries low11. Moreover, education and increasing an understanding of heat safety and heat-related illnesses among employees have also been proven to be protective factors.
Local Government’s together with health services and non-health services are key players in providing heat-related information to the public in their communities. Educating people about the symptoms of heat-related illness and prevention measures, can reduce mortality and morbidity.
The State Extreme Heat Plan anticipates that Local Government will continue to provide its current services/facilities, while responding to the impact of a greater demand during an Extreme Heat Event. Councils can, with the assistance of the LGAMLS, complement the State Government’s Extreme Heat Arrangements and at the same time limit the duplication of services. Councils will be most effective by:
Acting as an information or guidance source for persons needing additional assistance and/or support during an Extreme Heat Event
Ensuring that Council acts as a participating organisation/stakeholder to the SASES Extreme Heat Arrangements. The community will only be confused and uncertain if a Council attempts to offer an alternative or additional service to that already being provided by recognized “emergency management” entities (such as SASES and Red Cross)
Understanding the formal “trigger” factors that have been implemented by the SASES
Ensuring that clear communication processes are developed to receive, understand and impart extreme heat messages from the SASES
Considering enhancements to current services and facilities available to the local community to cope with anticipated increased demands of an extreme heat event.
Developing Business Continuity Plans that anticipate and mitigate the business disruption that may occur during extreme heat events.
Adequacy of furniture, air-conditioning and other infrastructure
148 Frome St
Adelaide SA 5000
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Adelaide SA 5001
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1 Nitschke, M., G. Tucker, A. Hansen, S. Williams, Y. Zhang and P. Bi, 2011: Impact of two recent extreme heat episodes on morbidity and mortality in Adelaide, South Australia: a case-series analysis. Environ. Health, 10:42, doi: 10.1186/1476-1069X-1110-1142.
2 Langlois, N., Herbst, J., Mason, K., Nairn, J., & Byard, R. (2013). Using the Excess Heat Factor (EHF) to predict the risk of heat related deaths. J Forensic Legal Med, 20(5), 408-411.
4 Williams S, Nitschke M, Tucker G, Bi P (2011). Extreme heat arrangements in South Australia: an assessment of trigger temperatures. Health Prom J Aust.
5 Nitschke, M., Tucker, G., Hansen, A., Williams, S., Zhang, Y., & Bi, P. (2016). Evaluation of a heat warning system in Adelaide, South Australia, using case-series analysis. BMJ Open, 6(7), e012125. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012125
6 Zhang, Y., Nitschke, M., Krackowizer, A., Dear, K., Pisaniello, D., & Weinstein, P. et al. (2016). Risk factors of direct heat-related hospital admissions during the 2009 heatwave in Adelaide, Australia: a matched case–control study. BMJ Open, 6(6), e010666. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010666
7 Department of Human Services. (2009). Heatwave Planning Guide, Development of heatwave plans in local councils in Victoria. Melbourne: Environmental Health Unit.
8 Brugge R. (1995) Heatwaves and record temperatures in North America, June 1994. Weather 50:20–23
9 Xiang, J., Bi, P., Pisaniello, D., Hansen, A., & Sullivan, T. (2013). Association between high temperature and work-related injuries in Adelaide, South Australia, 2001–2010. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 71(4), 246-252.
10 Xiang, J., Bi, P., Pisaniello, D., & Hansen, A. (2014). Health Impacts of Workplace Heat Exposure: An Epidemiological Review. Industrial Health, 52(2), 91-101.
11 Lao, J., Hansen, A., Nitschke, M., Hanson-Easey, S., & Pisaniello, D. (2016). Working smart: An exploration of council workers’ experiences and perceptions of heat in Adelaide, South Australia. Safety Science, 82, 228-235.