Part of the Plan is the Office of Emergency Management’s monthly video series where we open our public safety plans and partnerships. Something we value at OEM is informing and including the public as to your roles in our plans. As we say: You are the Public in Public Safety. This month, we look at our Excessive Heat Plan, the harsh effects of heat on our health, how it contributes to severe weather, and what you can do to help yourself and others.

by Public Affairs, Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management | May 31, 2017

High temperatures can become a health risk during extreme heat. Younger children, seniors, persons who are homeless, people with chronic health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and pets are a concern.

When daytime temperatures reach the 90s or triple digits and are accompanied by high humidity for two or more days, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke can happen. Extreme heat can also contribute to severe weather. Thunderstorms with lightning can bring heavy rain, high winds, and power outages.

These issues are taken into account in our Excessive Heat Public Safety Plan, which was developed with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) and other city partner agencies.

When heat becomes a health concern, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health commissioner can declare  a Heat Health Emergency. This activates several city services, including the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) Heatline and extending hours at  cooling centers.

There are precautions to avoid head-related illness and steps you can take to help keep you, your family, neighbors, and your property safe. By being knowledgeable and prepared, you are Part of the Plan!

Stay Informed

Information from the National Weather Service and the City regarding heat and severe weather will be published via free email and text alerts via the City’s mass notification system, ReadyPhiladelphia. For updates, follow @PhilaOEM @PhiladelphiaGov @PHLPublicHealth.

Heat Health Emergency

When the Health Commissioner declares a Heat Health Emergency, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging HeatLine (215-765-9040) is activated along with Philadelphia Department of Public Health mobile teams, cooling center hours are extended, and utility shutoffs are halted.

The PCA Heatline is a call center that people can contact for heat safety tips or if they have a health concern. During a Heat Health Emergency, health department nurses can speak to callers about medical problems related to the heat and initiate home visits by a PDPH mobile health member.

Stay Cool

Seek shade and air conditioning during extreme heat. Visit our interactive map of public swimming pools, spray grounds, and cooling centers. Cooling centers are air conditioned facilities, such as libraries, community centers and senior centers that are open to the public that may offer extended hours during a Heat Health Emergency. Call 311 to find a cooling center near you.

Do not use fire hydrants to cool off, they are for fighting fires. According to the Philadelphia Water Department, opening hydrants to cool off decreases water pressure and makes it difficult for firefighters to do their jobs, plus it can damage water mains. The water pressure alone from a hydrant can cause serious injury or even death, especially if there are little kids around. From a waste perspective, the amount of water used in one hour by an open fire hydrant can be equivalent to a household’s water usage for an entire year.

If you work outside, take extra precautions. Outdoor workers are at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can result in death if not treated immediately. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks in shaded or air conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Due to lack of vegetation, tall buildings, and concentration of dark, non-reflective surfaces, temperatures in an urban environment, like Philadelphia, are often higher than the surrounding suburban area. For people without air conditioning, higher nighttime temperatures can prevent overnight recovery from heat stress, which is particularly concerning during an extended heat event.

Code Red

Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services Heat Team can declare a Code Red when heat and humidity become a concern for people who are homeless. A Code Red initiates services to protect  individuals experiencing homelessness because they  are vulnerable to heat related illnesses, including heat stroke, which is life-threatening.

Call the OHS Street Outreach team at 215-232-1984 if you have a concern for a homeless individual. Call Philadelphia Fire EMS at 911 if there is a medical emergency.

Pet Care

Make sure your pet has a ventilated, cool place to lay and plenty of water. When outside, ensure shade and water. Watch their paws too! Their paws have foot-pads which can burn your pets paws on surfaces like concrete, metal, pavement, sidewalks and asphalt.

During City declared Code Red events dogs must also receive the following or face penalties of $500 or more. All dogs must be afforded one or more separate areas of shade large enough to accommodate the entire body of the dog at one time and protect it from the direct rays of the sun. If you would like to report a dog left outdoors in severe weather, call our partners at ACCT Philly at 267-385-3800.


Children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances. During warm or hot weather car interiors can reach lethal temperatures. It takes only two minutes for a car to reach unsafe temperatures. After an hour, temperatures can reach over 120 degrees inside a vehicle.

Health Concerns

Excessive heat can worsen pre-existing health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma. Learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, especially heat stroke, from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.  Also: Cover Up! Be aware of the cancerous effects the sun can have on your skin.

  • People aged 65 years or older are at risk for adverse health issues during a heat event because they are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Many people, particularly older adults, also don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. Because they may not realize that they are in danger, it’s important for family, friends or neighbors to check in on them and make sure that they are staying cool and hydrated.
  • Infants and young children (under age 4) are sensitive to the effects of extreme heat and must also rely on their caregivers to make sure that they stay cool and hydrated.
  • People with some chronic medical conditions are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Also, they may be taking medications that can contribute to dehydration or interfere with the body’s ability regulate internal body temperature.
  • Patients should check with their healthcare provider for more information about how specific chronic conditions and medications may affect them during extreme heat events.
  • Specific tips for common chronic medical conditions:
    • Diabetes
      • People with diabetes get dehydrated more quickly. Not drinking enough liquids can raise blood sugar, and high blood sugar can make you urinate more, causing dehydration.
      • High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin. People with diabetes may need to test their blood sugar more often and adjust their insulin dose and what they eat and drink.
    • Cardiovascular disease
      • Exposure to high temperatures can exacerbate cardiovascular conditions. People with heart disease may be more susceptible to heat stroke.
      • Some medicines commonly used to treat high blood pressure, like diuretics (“water pills”), can worsen dehydration
    • Respiratory disease
      • High temperatures can also impact air quality and exacerbate respiratory conditions, like asthma.
      • Visit AirNow to check air quality ratings each day and plan activities accordingly.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following recommendations to prevent heat-related illness.

  • Drink more fluids (non-alcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. HOWEVER, 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.
  • Stay in an air-conditioned place, if possible. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a public air-conditioned space. 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 some comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans may not provide sufficient relief to prevent heat-related illness. Take a cool shower or bath, or move to an air-conditioned place to cool off.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and put on sunscreen.
  • Visit at-risk adults and watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours as much as possible.

Downed Trees and Power Outages

Excessive heat can bring powerful thunderstorms that cause heavy rain, downed trees, and power outages. 

Philadelphia’s power utility company PECO has ways to help before, during, and after a storm, including; preventing outagesstorm readinessstorm restoration processreporting outages online, and tracking current outages.

Street lights out? Call Philadelphia’s non-emergency number 3-1-1. Street lights in the city of Philadelphia are owned and maintained by the city.

Have a tree emergency? Philadelphia Parks and Recreation says if a tree falls during a storm and it’s blocking a road, or it has fallen on a house, car or other property, call 911. For non-emergency tree requests, please submit a request through Philly311. In the event that a tree has fallen on electrical wires, please call PECO’s emergency line: 1-800-841-4141. Do not approach.


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