Are You Ready for a Heat Wave?
Here’s what you can do to prepare yourself and your family.
Know What These Terms Mean...
Heat wave: Prolonged period of excessive heat and humidity. The National Weather Service
steps up its procedures to alert the public during these periods of excessive heat and humidity.
Heat index: A number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels when relative
humidity is added to the actual air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by
Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually
involve the abdominal muscles or legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water from heavy
sweating causes the cramps.
Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a
warm humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin
increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild
shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and
the victim may suffer heat stroke.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is life.threatening. The victims temperature control system, which
produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that
brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.
Sunstroke: Another term for heat stroke.
If a Heat Wave Is Predicted or Happening…
Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity do it during the coolest
part of theday, which is usually in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor,
out of the sunshine. Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat
evaporate, which cools your body.
Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the suns energy.
Drink plenty of water regularly and often. Your body needs water to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty.
Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol or
caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat’s effects on your body
worse. This is especially true about beer which actually dehydrates the body.
Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase
Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
Signals of Heat Emergencies...
Heat exhaustion: Cool, moist, pale or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or
vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
Heat stroke: Hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow
breathing. Body temperature can be very high — sometimes as high as l05°F. If the person was
sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will feel dry.
Treatment of Heat Emergencies...
Heat cramps: Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable
position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool wafer
every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can make
Heat exhaustion: Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight
clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give
cool wafer to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every
15 minutes. Do not give liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. Let the victim rest in a
comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.
Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation. Help is needed fast. Call 9-1-1 or your
local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body. Immerse
victim in a cool bath, or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of
breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you
can. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in the level of consciousness,
do not give anything to eat or drink.
Plan and Get Ready.
Heat can affect anyone. However, it is more likely to affect young children,
elderly people, and people with health problems. For instance, people with a
medical condition that causes poor blood circulation, and those who take
medications to get rid of waler from the body (diuretics) or for certain skin
conditions, may be more susceptible. Consult with a physician if you have any
questions about how your medication may affect your ability to tolerate heat.
Be prepared for heat emergencies by having various members of the family do
the activities on the checklist below. Then get together to discuss and finalize
your Family Disaster Plan.
Discuss what each member of the family would do during
a heat wave. Where are the safest and coolest places to
be at home?.., at work?.., at school?.., and in other places
where you may go?
Coolest place at home:
If your home does not have air conditioning, choose other
places you go to get relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day.
Cool places to go to avoid heat:
Plan changes in your daily activities that would be needed
to avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day.
Changes to daily activities:
Plan to wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
Some family members may be taking medications or have medical conditions that may cause poor blood circulation
or reduced ability to tolerate heat. Discuss these concerns with a physician.
Physician’s special recommendations:
Take an American Red Cross first aid course to learn how to treat heat emergencies and other emergencies.
Household member(s) trained in first aid:
Certifications good through:
And remember. . . when a heat wave, thunderstorm, tornado, earthquake, flood, fire,
or other emergency happens in your community you can count on your local
American Red Cross chapter to help you and your family. That’s been our role for
more than 100 years.
Sources: American Red Cross, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and Federal Emergency Management.