87th AMS Annual Meeting

Monday, 15 January 2007: 2:00 PM
What Happens When an Excessive Heat Warning is Issued: Stakeholder Activity in the Pacific Northwest
207B (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
Tyree Wilde, National Weather Service, Portland, OR
The new National Weather Service (NWS) Heat/Health Watch/Warning System (HHWS) has been implemented in a total of 17 locations covering 26 U.S. cities with a half million population or greater. Each location where the new system has been put in place has involved an extensive and ongoing outreach effort to help maintain the system.

This session segment will address what key community stakeholders do in response to issuance of a NWS excessive heat watch, warning or advisory. These key stakeholders include the media, the emergency management, the American Red Cross chapters, health communities, and senior citizen facilities. Activities include the media airing the heat message and precautions to take, the emergency management and health communities spreading the message throughout their jurisdictions particularly to their most vulnerable populations, and those same vulnerable population communities such as senior citizens, responding appropriately to the heat message to help protect lives.

The new HHWS program was implemented in NWS Seattle in 2005 and NWS Portland in 2006. The first hurdle was convincing the community as a whole that heat was a serious health issue in the Seattle and Portland areas. Since heat is not a hazard one can see like a tornado, flood or winter storm, most people didn't view heat as a threat to life, particularly in such a moderate climate in the Pacific Northwest. Yet, study results showed heat ranks among the top weather-related killer in the Seattle and Portland areas, mirroring such statistics nationwide. Initially, even many in the health and emergency management community did not immediately see heat as a serious health threat.

This ‘heat is a serious health issue' in the Pacific Northwest continues to be a challenge. Yet, hot weather episodes in the summers of 2005 and 2006 helped reinforce the need for heat awareness and preparedness.

These same stakeholders are also involved in an ongoing community education effort throughout the year. This process is challenged, given the frequent turnover in the community as a whole by people who do not view heat as a serious issue in the region.

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