Coping with extreme heat

This summer has in many ways been the story of extreme temperatures, with records being set in Siberia, parts of Scandinavia and of course in the north west parts of the American continent. In related news, this summer California has experienced its largest ever wildfire, the Dixie Fire.

Europe has not escaped. This week, for example, France has also been experiencing extreme temperatures once again. Firefighters have been struggling to control blazes in France’s Gulf of Saint Tropez, as a wildfire burned through 5,000 hectares in France’s Var department, leading to the deployment of about 900 firefighters and the evacuation of at least 10,000 people, according to local authorities.

For France, the extreme heatwave phenomenon is sadly nothing new, but what is encouraging is that the country has taken the threat seriously and put in place robust risk management measures which have helped to save lives.

After 15,000 people died in the 2003 heat wave event, France put in place its first national heatwave action plan. It is updated every year and has helped the country to reduce both mortality rate and negative health consequences.

Preventive measures to raise awareness and tackle the health consequences of heatwaves start by 1 June and last until 15 September every year. The National Public Health Agency (ANSP) of France informs people through a press release about the vigilance and action plan.

It provides all the information material such as form leaflets and information brochure etc to regional health services, local administration and the associative network, which is then distributed to the general public.

The information materials are also specifically developed and implemented based on the needs of the department, keeping in mind the identified vulnerable population.

For a successful implementation of the plan, communication forms an important part of the action plan. Local bodies, regional health services, central health services and central administration coordinate among each other to maintain consistency of communication.

Media, such as television and radio, are effectively used to disseminate information on a regular basis during the emergency phase — when heatwaves are declared.

A series of practical steps are put in place at the appropriate warning level. For instance, in Paris elderly care homes are provided ‘cool’ rooms equipped with air conditioners, while school outings and sports events are cancelled.

The National heat wave action plan is revised each year. A monitoring and evaluation committee meets twice a year — once before the summer season and then at the end of the season – to incorporate feedback gathered.

The results have been fantastic in that France has been able to cut heatwave induced death toll by 90 per cent since 2003. A model to be adopted by other nations?

Enjoy the read,


Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks

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