Summer preparedness when the heat is on
June 26, 2009 · 9:51 AM
Courtesy of Federal Way Emergency Management:
Finally, it feels like summer has arrived. The flowers are blooming, the sun’s shining, kids are swimming and the BBQ is grilling. And, oh yes, the heat. While most of us love the sunshine and fun summer activities, we all need to be aware of the hazards heat can cause.
Four hazards that you need to be aware of include fire, lightning, hypothermia (yes, hypothermia) and heat exhaustion/stroke.
Wildfires - The threat of wildfires increase with the advent of summer as dry conditions create a tinderbox in forests and dry grasses which can easily be ignited as a result of lightning storms or manmade causes. Nationally in 2008, there were nearly 80,000 wildfires that burned almost 5 million acres, with the State of Washington experiencing nearly 3,000 wildfires (source: NIFC). So, what precautions can you take to help mitigate wildfires?
First and foremost, don’t be a human contributor. According to NIFC statistics, 1,624 of the wildfires in Washington were caused by lightning while 1,365 were caused through human actions. To ensure you don’t become the cause of a wildfire, only start campfires when approved by forest service advisories and only in designated areas within a well-contained fire pit.
Before leaving a campfire, make sure it’s out and no hot coals remain (remember, high winds can reignite a smoldering campfire). Never toss a lit cigarette out a car window or on the ground.
Lightning – July and August can experience lightning strikes that happen as far away as ten miles from any thunderstorm rainfall. Not only can lightning strikes lead to fire, but they can be very dangerous to those who are outside during the storm. If you find yourself outside during a lightning or thunderstorm, immediately seek shelter indoors or in a vehicle with a hard top.
If you are in the forest, seek a location that is in a low area under a thick growth of small trees. If you are out in the open, seek the closest low area and squat low to the ground, balancing on the balls of your feet, with your hands over your ears and head between your legs. This position will make you the smallest target possible and minimize your contact with the ground (source: FEMA).
Hypothermia – Yes, it’s summer, but remember that many lakes and rivers are still very cold. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature cools significantly. The condition can be caused through prolonged exposure to cold water. The symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow or unclear speech, confusion, pale or blue-gray skin and stiffening of muscles.
To avoid hypothermia, never swim alone, take frequent breaks from cold water ensuring enough time to regain warmth, have a dry towel or blanket handy and drink warm liquids, avoiding alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Always watch your children while they are in the water and moderate prolonged exposure.
Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke – Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are usually caused by dehydration. Under normal conditions, the body is able to regulate its temperature through normal sweating. However, when outside temperatures rise, the body may not be able to sweat enough to rid itself of excess heat (source: WebMd).
While heat exhaustion can be treated without medical care, a heat stroke victim must receive medical attention immediately as the condition can result in serious organ damage or death. To avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke, be sure to drink plenty of fluids (water is best) throughout the day, avoiding alcohol, caffeine and beverages high in sugar, take frequent breaks from the sun and eat small amounts often. Be alert to symptoms including high body temperature, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, headache, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing and the absence of sweating. Never leave a child or pet in the car and ensure both get plenty of water throughout the day.
For more information, check out the City of Federal Way’s Emergency Management web site at www.cityoffederalway.com/prepare, Washington State Emergency Management Division at www.emd.wa.gov or the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov.