A Surrey Extreme Weather Action Plan was approved by city council Monday, June 27.
Between June 25 and July 1 last year, during the record-setting extreme heat in B.C. 619 people died and 75 of those deaths were in Surrey. This is according to a report by the province’s chief coroner entitled “Extreme Heat and Human Mortality: A Review of Heat-Related Deaths in B.C. in Summer 2021.”
Comparatively, 117 people died in Vancouver, 73 in Burnaby, 33 in New Westminster, 27 in Chilliwack, 23 in Abbotsford, 23 in Langley, and 20 people died in Victoria.
Of those deaths, 98 per cent occurred indoors and 73 per cent occurred in private homes, with 39 per cent in multi-unit buildings and 34 per cent in detached buildings. Ten per cent occurred in social housing, single room occupancy (SRO), or supportive housing; seven per cent in trailer homes, mobile homes, RVs or campers; and seven per cent in seniors homes or long-term care homes.
According to the coroner, 56 per cent of those who died lived alone, 30 per cent lived with their spouse or other family members; eight per cent lived in community or assisted living situations such as a group home, seniors home or long-term care homes; and five per cent lived with unrelated friends or roommates.
The corporate report that came before Surrey council – authored by Fire Chief Larry Thomas, General Manager of Parks, Recreation and Culture Laurie Cavan, and General Manager of Community Services Terry Waterhouse – notes that while up until recently Surrey’s emergency weather plans tended to focus primarily on winter weather, but given the “extremes of weather our region now faces from cold, heat and smoke, the city has worked to ensure year-round responses that are aligned with provincial authorities.”
They define an “extreme heat” emergency as occurring when temperatures during both day and night are “well above seasonal norms and are forecast to increase above the regional recommended thresholds for three consecutive days.”
“The 2021 ‘heat dome’ was the deadliest weather event in Canadian history and underlined the fact that those in our communities who are most vulnerable require additional support,” the authors of the city report noted. The Surrey Extreme Weather Action Plan involves coordinated responses to cold, heat and smoke, to “ensure our residents are adequately informed year-round of risks and required actions to prepare for and protect themselves during extreme cold, heat and smoke events.”
Surrey’s plan is aligned with the provincial alert system, with two alert levels: warning and emergency. In May, the Surrey Fire Service launched the “Alertable” Emergency Notification system through which Surrey residents can sign up to receive emergency notifications and alerts from City of Surrey related to “any emergency event impacting their location.”
Coun. Laurie Guerra, whose aunt died during last year’s heat wave, said the alert app is “fantastic,” easy to download and “something very important to have.”
During a Level 1 alert – Heat Warning – the city will advertise where and when city-owned facilities will be available for relief from the heat, and check-ins will be done on those identified as more vulnerable to the heat event.
At a Level 2 alert – Extreme Heat Emergency – the city will continue with level 1 but also conduct community outreach that focuses on high-risk populations and groups supporting them, extend the hours “as required” for City-owned facilities where people can shelter from the heat, distribute water and other resources to the public, such as water, and also increase the availability of on-duty first responders.