The City of El Paso Department of Public Health on Wednesday morning declared a heat emergency in El Paso.
The announcement came after a recommendation by the Extreme Weather Task Force (EWTF) which is comprised of various City departments, and local agencies.
Dr. Hector Ocaranza, El Paso City/County Health Authority, said the declaration is important in order to increase the level of readiness on the part of local agencies as well as to raise awareness about the severity of current and ongoing weather conditions.
"With temperatures in excess of 106 degrees expected to continue for at least the next three days, I am declaring a heat emergency in El Paso and El Paso County. I am confident this message will raise awareness in our community of the dangers that exist because of the extreme weather and I know that the departments and agencies involved with come together in a united effort to protect the health and safety of our community," Ocaranza said in a statement.
This declaration means that City departments are on high alert and will be offering specific services in addition to their everyday functions for at least three days.
Local agencies will also maintain a degree of readiness and cooperation in preventing heat-related illness and injury in our community.
In addition to a collective effort on behalf of City Departments and local agencies, the City of El Paso Department of Public Health and the EWTF is also urging residents to practice the following heat-related illness prevention methods:
- Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic/preferably water), regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask your doctor how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
- Don't drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar-these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks; which can cause stomach cramps.
- Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a shopping mall or public library-even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
- Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- NEVER leave infants, children, elderly adults, or pets in a closed, parked vehicle.
- Avoid hot foods and heavy meals-they add heat to your body.
- Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.
- Limit your outdoor activity during mid-day hours and in places of potential severe exposure.
- Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets and leave the water in a shady area.
If you must be out in the heat:
- Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
- Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids (preferably water) each hour. A sports beverage can be an alternative to replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Parents of infants should consult with their pediatrician.
- Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or UVA/UVB protection" on their labels.
Additional Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness
- Keep electric lights down low or turned off.
- Keep shades drawn, blinds closed. Windows should remain slightly open.
- Don't ever use a fan in a closed room without windows or doors open to the outside. **Increased air movement (i.e. with fans) is associated with increased heat stress when the ambient temperature exceeds approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit (exact temperature varies with the humidity). Therefore, fans are not protective at temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity greater than 35%.
- Check on your family and friends. Check on elderly or incapacitated persons as frequently as possible. Cities should monitor nursing homes and other similar facilities serving senior citizens, making sure air-conditioners are in working order. All nursing homes should have independent electricity-generating equipment on hand in case of long-term power outages.
Summer Weather: Monitor High-Risk Individuals
Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.
- Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
- People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature.
- People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.
- People who overexert during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
- People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down.
Body temperature may rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Get medical assistance as soon as possible if you see any of the warning signs of heat stroke below.
Signs vary but may include the following:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, orally)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
The Extreme Weather Task force is an Ad Hoc Committee of the El Paso County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The Task Force works to inform the public about steps we can all take to be prepared for severe weather, including the creation of an emergency action plan.