Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Society not ready for heat waves coming with climate change

Oren Dorell in USA Today: Health officials are better prepared for heat waves than they used to be, but they have more to do in the face of climate change, experts say. "Nationally and internationally we are much more aware of the danger of extreme heat than we were in 1995," says sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago, about the three-day heat wave that caused 739 excess deaths and thousands of hospitalizations in 1995.

"We're more prepared than we were in 1995. A lot of Americans are still vulnerable, and our power grid is vulnerable, too."

Medical workers reported few problems related to the past week's heat wave in parts of the USA that suffered extreme temperatures but were spared Friday night's storms that knocked out power to more than 3 million customers.

But in the District of Columbia, where heat and power outages struck together, sick patients at home who rely on electronic medical devices suffered doubly, and hospitals had to improvise, says Bill Frohna, chairman of the emergency department at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. "Before the storm came we saw some heat-related stuff, but once you throw the power issue on top of the heat, families didn't know what to do," Frohna said. "When no one has power they don't have a backup plan."

Even the Washington hospital had a plan for heat and a plan for outages, but not a plan for the two together, Frohna said.

After storms cut power to millions, hospital workers Saturday saw a spike in patients with chronic diseases who need electricity to operate home dialysis units and machines that deliver intravenous fluids, medications, tube feedings and oxygen, Frohna said....

"Hot babies in a shady spot," a photo from the 1911 heat wave in the eastern US

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