British Columbia

Some Metro Vancouver cities prepare to open 24-hour cooling centres during heat wave

As yet another heat wave hits Metro Vancouver, some municipalities have plans in place to offer 24-hour cooling centres aimed at vulnerable populations and seniors.

New Westminster has 2 such centres open, Vancouver and North Shore municipalities have similar plans in place

A man heads into a cooling centre set up by the City of Vancouver to help people stay cool during extreme heat.
Vancouver is one of a few B.C. municipalities ready to keep cooling centres open overnight. Two 24-hour centres in New Westminster are already open. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As yet another heat wave hits Metro Vancouver, some municipalities in the region have plans in place for 24-hour cooling centres aimed at vulnerable populations and seniors.

It comes after officials confirmed that a heat dome in late June caused 570 deaths, 79 per cent of whom were seniors, and some of whom died alone in single-family homes.

Local governments throughout the province were criticized for their response, especially in the Lower Mainland where the majority of deaths occurred.

This has led some municipalities to prepare for the unprecedented step of offering overnight cooling centres. 

New Westminster Fire Chief Tim Armstrong said the city had only run daytime cooling centres before.

"We've definitely enhanced our response this time in anticipation of another heat wave," he said. "We're also providing cab rides covered by the city to cooling centres, with return trips as well."

Some cooling centres in the Lower Mainland are open 24 hours this weekend:


Armstrong said Century House, one of two cooling centres in the city that will be open 24 hours, was already being used by seniors a lot during the day, so the city wanted to ensure they would not have to go back to hot apartments at night.

While New Westminster has already opened its cooling centres overnight, Vancouver and the three North Shore municipalities have similar plans in place in case night-time temperatures become dangerous.

But Emily Dicken, director of North Shore Emergency Management, said guidance from Environment Canada shows night-time temperatures this weekend will not be high enough to trigger that level of emergency response.

Most other municipalities in Metro Vancouver have cooling centres only open until late evening, with some even requiring appointments.

Heat stress can accumulate while sleeping

Temperatures this weekend will drop to the late teens at night, which is higher than usual, but not the 20 C-plus seen during the heat dome.

Dr. Michael Schwandt, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said overnight cooling centres would potentially be aimed at vulnerable people and in some of the "higher risk" areas of the city.

"It's been noted that for a lot of people seeking refuge from the heat during the day might be one thing," he said. "But continuing that time in cooling spaces overnight could be important as well."

Schwandt says that the body accumulates heat stress over the day when exposed to high temperatures, and that can inhibit sleep.

"I think the extreme heat alert that we had early in our summer season did catch a lot of people by surprise," he said.

"We found that in the scientific evidence that, oftentimes, these heat events earlier in the season can be some of the worst in terms of their impact."

Schwandt says public health interventions like providing transportation to cooling centres and developing better systems to check in on vulnerable neighbours have to be incorporated into heat management plans in future.

A large umbrella blocks the sun as people sit on the sidewalk.
A woman is shaded by a large umbrella while sitting on the sidewalk in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. 24-hour cooling centres should be targeted at vulnerable populations, Dr. Michael Schwandt says. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

While people experiencing homelessness and vulnerable populations might not have access to 24-hour cooling centres everywhere in the Lower Mainland, municipalities like Surrey are working with local service providers to help them.

Henry Glazebrook, spokesperson for B.C. Housing, said the non-profit housing provider had already opened cooling stations in several of its facilities this weekend.