BC Association of Community Response Networks

Alberni Valley Coordinates Community Response to Address Heat Dome Dangers


Last summer’s heat dome singed the province with record high temperatures and caused 526 heat-related deaths in its first week.[1] BC’s Greater Alberni Valley, which includes Port Alberni and several lake and river communities, is one of the province’s hot spots. Temperatures last summer reached a sweltering 39 degrees Celsius, plus the humidity.[2]

In a proactive move by local community organizations that form the Alberni Clayoquot Health Network (ACHN), the team heeded this year’s hot weather warnings and swiftly coordinated a response to help the housebound stay cool and stay alive.

A Simple Solution, A Nimble Response

Information was included with the fans on how to stay safe in the heat. View in full (PDF). (Image: Health Canada). 

Last Spring at a regular meeting, the ACHN heard concerns from the community and its partners about forecasted hot weather in the coming summer. A conversation was quickly scheduled with Island Health to discuss ideas and opportunities. And as fast as the meeting was scheduled, all parties reached consensus on a plan to increase the capacity in the valley to benefit adults who were most at-risk to the harms of the pending hot weather.

“Last summer there were cooling centres set up in the community, but there was limited uptake,” says ACHN Coordinator Marcie DeWitt. “People chose to stay home for several reasons. Some had mobility challenges or health issues that made moving difficult. Others had pets they don’t want to leave behind.”

The solution was a practical and simple one: to purchase as many fans as available funding would allow and then distribute them as quickly as possible.

Here’s what the team did.

With funding supplied by a BC CRN project grant, the team purchased 180 fans to be distributed by seven community organizations.

Island Health Public Health Outreach, Island Health Home and Community Care, the Port Alberni Friendship Center, the Port Alberni Shelter Society, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Port Alberni, the Port Alberni Salvation Army, Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council – Health Outreach Team stepped up to assist in distribution.

Each organization committed to delivering 25 fans to people who were most at-risk in their respective networks. Priority was given to people in the Alberni Valley who had limited income, medical conditions, and/or were unable to leave home in a heat event.

Marcie also created an information package to accompany the fans, which included a one-pager on how to create a DIY air conditioner and resources from partner organizations on heat safety.

“We wanted to keep everything as low barrier and as simple as possible,” Marcie continues. “The entire project from start to finish took just under two months. From that first conversation in May that produced the idea for the project, the last of the fans were delivered or picked up by the end of June. The biggest challenge was finding the place to store 180 fans and the means to distribute them.”

ACHN produced this leaflet to help people make their own air conditioners. View in full (PDF). (Image: ACHN)

Sage Haven Society stepped up to provide storage and distribution support.

Temperatures in Port Alberni in June reached a high of 33 degrees Celsius plus humidity, 13 degrees warmer than average.

“Several organizations expressed need as soon as the fans became available,” she says. “We happy to share that nearly all the fans are in the community and being put to good use!”

Future Plans

Despite this team’s first go at a project like this, they are already exploring avenues to repeat it next year. “I hope we’ll be able to run a program like this again,” Marcie states. “Maybe we’ll have some additional funding or inspire organizations to use any excess funds to do this project in the future. Personally, fast projects like this are my favourite.”

Jane Osborne, Regional Mentor – Vancouver Island Central and North, says: “In the Central Island, we are collectively focused on supporting isolated heat vulnerable people. Many are seniors. Last year’s heat dome caused a significant number of deaths. For me, these folks are an extremely important population because of the high likelihood of self-neglect and serious worsening of chronic conditions. Statistically, heat is far more dangerous to a larger slice of the isolated older adult population than wildfire smoke and is harder to mitigate. This project was an example of how we need to (and can) play a role in coordinating community responses to self-neglect.”

To learn more about the Alberni Clayoquot Health Network (ACHN), please contact Marcie at Alberni achn@acrd.bc.ca.

For more on the Alberni Valley CRN, contact Jane at jane.osborne@bccrns.ca.

[1] Source: Alberni Valley News, June 27, 2022.

[2] Source: Alberni Valley News, June 27, 2022.

(Header Photo: Office 365 Stock Image, Creative Commons License)