With Memorial Day behind us, New York City Emergency Management and SelectCare’s staff are preparing for another hot summer. Below are some important basic tips to stay cool and safe when the mercury begins to rise.
What is extreme heat? In New York City, a heat advisory is announced when the heat index (the “felt heat” based on temperature and humidity) is expected to reach between 95 and 99 degrees for two consecutive days, or any time the heat index rises to 100 degrees or higher.
What makes extreme heat so dangerous in New York City? Two factors make the summer months particularly hot in New York City: air quality and the urban heat island effect.
Air Quality: Ozone, a major component of smog, is created by sunlight interacting with chemicals found in smog, car exhaust and chemicals like gasoline. The increase in heat increases ozone levels, which can impair lung functions and make existing conditions like asthma more acute. To limit the impacts of ozone, vulnerable people should only perform outdoor exercise in the morning hours, when temperature and ozone levels are lowest. People with weaker lungs should try to minimize exposure by staying in air conditioned spaces.
Use this online tool from the Environmental Protection Agency to review your zip code’s current air quality.
Urban Heat Island Effect: Asphalt, concrete, and building materials all trap heat during the daytime hours, which they slowly release throughout the night. This means that unlike less developed areas, New Yorkers tend to face more heat regardless of the time of day. This also contributes to temperatures as much as 10 degrees warmer within the city.
Who is most at risk during extreme heat? While the heat can adversely affect anyone with enough exposure, young children, older residents, and people with cardiovascular conditions are most at risk of heat stroke and similar conditions. Elderly people are particularly at risk, since their bodies’ internal temperature systems react more slowly (resulting in less sweating and other natural reactions to high temperatures.)
During an unexpected, three-month long heat wave in 2003, more than 14,800 people succumbed to heat-related illnesses in France. Among the victims, elderly people living alone made up the majority of deaths, due to the infrequency of heat waves, lack of air conditioning, and social isolation preventing friends and families intervening.
How do I protect myself and my client? Heat related illnesses can be a serious threat, but there are many ways to ensure you and your client enjoy a safe, comfortable summer:
Beat the heat at home
- Use an air conditioner – while some clients worry their energy bills will increase, safety always takes priority. In order to save energy and minimize the chances of contributing to a power outage, try to keep the thermostat set no lower than 78 degrees.
- Stay hydrated – be sure you and your client drink more when the temperature rises. Water is the best option, but the addition of a lemon or lime wedge, or a small amount of fruit juice can make water more enticing. Also remember that not all people like their water ice cold – tepid water is a great choice for clients with sensitive teeth.
- Try watery fruits – grapes, cantaloupes, and watermelons are very juicy and will not only help you stay hydrated, but are a great source of vitamins and fiber.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine – both contribute to dehydration and increase our bodies’ sensitivity to outside temperatures.
- Try to avoid going outside during the hottest parts of the day. The early morning hours are coolest during the summer.
- Dress appropriately – make sure your client leaves the house in cool, loose-fitting clothing. Hats and sunscreen will help prevent sunburn.
- Take a break – if you are worried you or your client are getting too hot, look for an air conditioned building or business that you can enter for a few minutes to cool off before you continue your trip.
Help from the city
In the event of an extreme heat advisory, the city will open senior centers and public buildings as “cooling centers.” These locations offer air conditioning, but do not guarantee programming or meals at all locations, so be sure to bring reading material or other activities to help you and your clients keep your cool. To locate a nearby cooling center, contact 311.
For a really offbeat way to beat the heat (and make some friends) you can also contact 311 or your local fire house to receive a free fire hydrant spray cap. These caps (which your local fire house will also install) turn any hydrant into a fountain, but use just a fraction of the 1,000 gallons per minute released by an opened hydrant.
SelectCare is serious about summer safety, and uses New York City Emergency Management’s Advance Warning System to keep our staff, clients and colleagues up to date on future heat hazards. To learn more about how we protect our clients, or to learn how we can help you or a loved one this summer call SelectCare today.