Heating Up Emergency Preparedness

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Release date: 
August 15, 2008
Release Number: 
R10-08-117

SEATTLE, Wash. -- It's hot, and the National Weather Service has issued Excessive Heat Warnings for most of inland Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon, and Air Stagnation Advisories remain in effect through much of this weekend.? Even Western Washington is projected to experience record or near-record highs, and emergency managers recommend that families and businesses revisit their disaster preparedness plans with hot weather in mind.?? According to FEMA Regional Administrator Susan Reinertson, adjusting disaster plans and refreshing emergency kits to reflect seasonal hazards is always a good idea - particularly when unexpected conditions surface.

"With the west coast projected for the high nineties, and inland temperatures hitting triple digits, special precautions make sense," said Reinertson.? "Young children, the elderly, and people with health problems can be more vulnerable to heat sickness than others, but it is important for everyone to be prepared for heat emergencies."

Heat waves trigger three main heat emergencies: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke or "sunstroke."

  • Heat Cramps are muscular pains and spasms from heavy exertion. They often involve the abdominal muscles or legs. To treat heat cramps, get the person to a cooler place and rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give the person a half glass of cool water every fifteen minutes.

  • Heat Exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. The skin will be cool and moist, and could appear to be either pale or flushed. The victim may have a headache and/or be suffering from nausea. There may also be some dizziness. Prompt treatment can prevent the condition from intensifying to heat stroke.

  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat emergency and is life threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. Body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Warning signs include: hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse and rapid, shallow breathing.?? Skin may be wet following heavy work or exercise from perspiration; otherwise, it will feel dry.

A person suffering from heat stroke needs help fast. Call 911 and move them to a cooler place immediately.? Immerse heat stroke victims in a cool bath or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.

To stay in top form when facing the stress of a natural disaster during hot weather spells:

  • Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day.

  • Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine.

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect away some of the sun's energy.

  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often.

  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty.

  • Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, ...

Last Updated: 
July 19, 2012 - 23:02
State/Tribal Government or Region: 
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