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Comox Valley shelter preparing for potential heat waves this summer

After experiencing the heat dome that caused many record temperatures to be set in B.C., a Comox Valley warming shelter is taking precautions for this summer.

The Connect Warming Centre, operated by Comox Valley Transition Society, says they are preparing for more heat.

Program coordinator Diana Merten says the heat event last June hit unexpectedly, and they needed to adapt quickly.

“At the time we were running as an overnight shelter program as well and we weren’t as prepared as one would like to be. We hadn’t experienced that kind of heat here before,” said Merten. “We just made sure we were keeping a close eye on everybody and tried to provide as many opportunities to cool off as possible.”

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Merten says the overnight program would sleep 10 people at a time, and their day program sees about 45 to 75 visitors a day. But during the heat wave, she noticed fewer people coming as they were trying to stay cool.

Without a full air-conditioning system, they were trying to bring water to those out in the heat and other cold drinks to help keep them cool.

She says for many people living out in unusually hot conditions, a large part of the problem is for people with mobility problems and regulating body temperatures.

“We have a lot of seniors that access our program so even if they have a place to go, getting there is an additional struggle,” she said. “People who use substances may not be aware that their body is getting to a dangerous temperature.”

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After the experience of last year, Merten says education will be key to keeping people safe and healthy during a heat event.

“Now we’re able to better identify who is the most at risk and what the heat-related illnesses look like,” said Merten. “We’re going to be paying attention to any weather alerts that come out, and make sure we’re keeping up to date on any messaging with what’s up and coming.”

Merten says blocking off parts of the building and potentially foiling windows will be done to keep the heat out. Air conditioning units may also be looked into, but the building has some inherent hurdles.

“We’re going to have lots of fans on hand, and we’re looking into an evaporation style air-conditioner that doesn’t require the venting,” she said.

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Donations can also be used by the society to purchase and stockpile water so that they can get it to those who need it most.

She adds checking in on those who are most vulnerable is a way citizens can help prevent heat-related illness and keep others safe during these events.

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