MOUNT VERNON — Before the dog days of summer reach their steamy peak, local officials have drafted a heat emergency plan to ensure the citizens of Knox County will have a safe escape from high temperatures if a prolonged heat emergency should strike the county.
Representatives of Knox County Emergency Management, the Knox County Health Department, and the American Red Cross Knox County Chapter recently structured the plan with input from all three agencies.
“The three agencies wrote the plan based on other plans throughout the state,” said Pam Palm, director of health promotions for the Knox County Health Department.
Each agency would then have a different role should a heat emergency affect the county. If dangerously high temperatures remain for consecutive days without relief, residents without access to air conditioning, especially the elderly, the chronically ill, and the very young, are all at a much higher risk for heat-induced medical problems.
“Staying cool is not just a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of health,” Palm said.
Dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and respiratory problems are all concerns when temperatures soar without relief.
Besides actions to take in an emergency, the plan also includes future public education campaigns, to help people learn to take the proper precautions in extreme heat.
Based on indicators such as increased calls to 9-1-1 for heat-related emergencies, or increased emergency room visits for the same, Palm said the health department could recommend the opening of comfort stations in the county to provide an air conditioned accessible place for residents to cool off and rest during the hottest hours of the day.
First, health department officials would make the recommendation to open the comfort stations based on need, then EMA Director Brian Hess would declare a heat emergency in the county, and the local Red Cross chapter would open and operate the comfort centers.
Local Red Cross director Kelly Brenneman said the comfort stations would offer water and snacks in a comfortable place where people could find relief from the sun and heat from midday to sundown. They would not provide overnight shelter.
The location of the comfort stations would be announced by local media, as the situation warranted. For instance if high use of electricity caused power outages during a heat wave, more comfort station space would probably be required in the affected areas.
Hess said funding to operate the centers would depend on the severity of the heat emergency.
“If there’s a statewide declaration of a heat emergency then there would be funding available through EMA,” he explained.
If the need is not county or statewide, but in pockets, the Red Cross would then cover the cost to operate the centers as they do other disaster relief, through ongoing fundraising.
Brenneman, Hess and Palm said the cooperation between the three agencies has forged a practically written plan which will serve the county well should a heat emergency occur.
Hess said a connected community is the key to residents faring well in any emergency. Knowing one’s neighbors, and checking on those more vulnerable to the extreme heat are ways residents can look out for one another, Palm added.