Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer (flickr.com)

Media Contacts

Ministry of Health

Media Relations
250 952-1887


Preparing for extreme heat

People are encouraged to prepare a heat plan, including identifying cool, clean-air zones inside and outside of their home (community centres, libraries, etc.), knowing ways to cool down, such as taking cool baths or showers and drinking plenty of water, and identifying family members and neighbours who are more susceptible to heat who should be checked on.

Extreme heat

During a heat warning or extreme heat emergency, the Province reimburses eligible costs to local governments and First Nations so they can open cooling centres. This funding may also be used to transport people to and from cooling centres. Local governments and First Nations will have the most up-to-date information on where and when people can access a community cooling centre. 

Prepare your home

During high temperatures and smoky conditions, your home can help to protect you.

  • If possible, create at least one room where you can take refuge with cooler, cleaner air.
  • If you do not have a safely cool space at home, have a plan to stay with friends or family who have air conditioning in the event of an extreme heat emergency or find places in your community to cool down.

Preparing for heat

The first high temperatures of the season can lead to some people overheating because they are not yet accustomed to warmer weather. There are some basic steps you can take to ensure you and your family remain safe and healthy during warmer temperatures.

  • Identify a cooler space in your home and prepare it so you can stay there at night, if possible. You may need to change daily living arrangements; consider staying with friends or family.
  • Install awnings, shutters, blinds, or curtains over your windows to keep the sun out during the day.
  • Shut windows and close curtains or blinds during the heat of the day to block the sun and to prevent hotter outdoor air from coming inside. Open doors and windows when it is cooler outside to move that cooler air indoors.
  • Practise opening doors and windows to move cool air in at night and shutting windows during the day to prevent hot outdoor air from coming inside.
  • Get a digital room thermometer to keep with you so you know when your home is getting too hot.
  • Check that you have a working fan. If you have an air conditioner, make sure it works.
  • If you do not have air conditioning at home, find an air-conditioned space or shaded outdoor location close by where you can cool off on hot days. Consider places in your community to spend time such as libraries, community centres, movie theatres, shopping malls, or recreation spaces including the ocean, rivers or lakes.
  • Spray your body down with water, wear a damp shirt, take a cool shower or bath, or sit with part of your body in water to cool down if you are feeling too hot. 
  • Drink plenty of water and other liquids to stay hydrated, even if you are not feeling thirsty. 
  • Take it easy, especially during the hottest hours of the day. 
  • When outdoors, stay in shade or use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher).
  • Signs of overheating include feeling unwell, headache, and dizziness. Take immediate action to cool down if you are overheating. It is important to remember that overheating can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
    • Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, severe headache, muscle cramps, extreme thirst, and dark urine.
    • If you are experiencing these symptoms, seek a cooler environment, drink plenty of water, rest, and use water to cool your body. 
    • Signs of heat stroke include confusion, fainting or decreased consciousness, or high body temperatures that cannot be lowered.
    • If you are experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 911 and seek medical care.

When to call 911

In the event of a medical emergency, British Columbians are advised to call 911. However, it is also important to use these systems responsibly so they are available to those who need them. Ahead of the busy summer months, BC Emergency Health Services, in partnership with ECOMM, is reminding British Columbians to dial 911 only for serious or life-threatening injuries.

  • In general: when there is chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, severe burns, choking, convulsions that are not stopping, a drowning, a severe allergic reaction, a head injury, signs of a stroke, and/or a major trauma.
  • More specifically related to hot weather: severe headache, confusion, unsteadiness, loss of thirst, nausea/vomitting, and dark or no urine are signs of dangerous heat-related illness.

If you have a less urgent health issue:

  • You can call 811 and get connected with a nurse at HealthLinkBC. Or, if you can do it safely, you could go to an urgent care centre or clinic.
  • That way, highly trained emergency medical dispatch staff and paramedics will be available for people who need their services the most.
  • There are also online tools, such as “Check Your Symptoms” tool: https://healthlinkbc.ca

Seasonal preparedness

Last year, British Columbia experienced a severe drought, which was far worse and more widespread throughout the province than ever experienced before. Communities and businesses are encouraged to take water-conservation measures early this year to prepare for potential drought conditions.

The current conditions and prolonged drought are setting the stage for a potentially challenging wildfire season. This risk is expected to increase if there is limited precipitation over the coming weeks and months.

Since April 1, 2024, there have been 191 wildfire starts across the province. As of May 30, 2024, there are 110 active wildfires, 96 of which are under control and two are being held.

Preparing for wildfire smoke

With wildfires comes wildfire smoke, which can affect the health of communities near and far from the fires. People with chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are most at risk, although everyone should take measures to reduce their wildfire-smoke exposure. Using commercial or do-it-yourself air cleaners can improve air quality in home.

Make an emergency plan for your household before wildfire season starts. Knowing what to do will reduce anxiety and help keep you focused and safe if you need to evacuate. B.C. emergency plans are available in several languages. Know the forecast and use the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to evaluate local and regional air quality conditions.

People can take steps now to prepare in advance of wildfires and the spreading of wildfire smoke:

  • Get a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter if you are able.
  • If you can’t keep your whole home clean and cool, focus on one room, such as a bedroom, basement or crawl space.
  • If you have a forced-air system, make sure your filters can reduce indoor smoke.
  • If you have a health condition, make sure you have a supply of rescue medications on hand.
  • If you don’t have access to cleaner air at home, know where you can go in your community, such as libraries, shopping centres, community centres, etc.

Who is most at risk?

It is important to monitor yourself and family members, and to consider developing a check-in system for neighbours and friends who are at higher risk during warmer weather. The most susceptible individuals include:

  • older adults;
  • people who live alone;
  • people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression or anxiety;
  • people with pre-existing health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease;)
  • people with substance-use disorders;
  • people with disabilities or limited mobility;
  • people who are marginally housed;
  • people who work in hot environments;
  • people who are pregnant; and
  • infants and young children.

Media Contacts

Andy Watson

Director of Communications
Office of the Provincial Health Officer
236 475-3094

Ministry of Health

Media Relations
250 952-1887
Free Portable Air Conditioning program

The Province launched the Free Portable Air Conditioning program in partnership with BC Hydro on June 28, 2023.

The purpose of the program is to ensure the most vulnerable people in British Columbia have access to cooling options during extreme heat emergencies.

B.C. provided an initial $10-million investment for 8,000 free air conditioning (AC) units to eligible customers. Since June 2023, more than 6,000 units have been installed. Over the past month, BC Hydro has received thousands of new applications that are being reviewed or are in the process of being scheduled for installation.

With such high interest in the program, the original funding has been increased by $20 million to ensure that people with low incomes and the most vulnerable to the heat can access a free AC unit. This means an additional 19,000 eligible customers can reap the health benefits of AC and bring the total number of free units to 28,000, when combined with last year’s funding.


Income-qualified customers and individuals who meet the Ministry of Health’s criteria as medically heat vulnerable can apply to receive a free portable AC.

  • Household income is based on the previous year and includes the combined income of all household members 18 and older. For example, income for a four-person household must not exceed $73,800. The program is open to eligible homeowners and renters.
  • Homeowners must meet a maximum assessed home value criteria. 
  • Tenants must obtain landlord consent.
  • The program also works closely with regional health authorities and home care programs, which refer residents to the program. 


BC Hydro offers eligible customers two installation options – a self-serve option or the option to have a certified electrician install the unit.

Homeowners who choose to install their units themselves in the summer months will receive their unit faster.

$50 rebate on energy-efficient AC returns

For a second year, BC Hydro is bringing back an offer for all residential customers, regardless of income, to receive $50 off the purchase of a qualifying energy-efficient portable or window air conditioner from May 31 until Aug. 23. Discounts will automatically be applied at checkout at participating retailers throughout the province, such as Best Buy, Costco, Canadian Tire, Leon’s, Rona, Visions and The Home Depot. This offer is also available for online purchases at select retailers, including Best Buy, Leon’s and Visions.

AC use in B.C.

Due in part to a changing climate and warmer summers, air conditioning use in British Columbia has gone up approximately 20% in recent years. More than half of British Columbians are now cooling their homes in the summer with AC, compared to about one-third in 2020.

Portable air conditioning units are the most popular choice in B.C. homes because they are lower cost, can easily be moved, are simpler to set up and do not require permanent installation. It is estimated that 730,000 units are being used throughout the province, an increase of approximately 350,000 units during the past three years.

Media Contacts

Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation

Media Relations

BC Hydro

Media Relations
604 928 6468
Recent improvements, investments to the health-care system

To ensure people’s health and well-being are protected during extreme weather events, the Province has made significant improvements and investments to the health-care system.

These improvements include:

  • Long-term care:
    • Since April 2020, the Province has provided $38 million through the BC Care Providers Association’s EquipCare BC program to support the creation of an Infection Control Enhancement Program to improve Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), as well as the purchase of equipment and supplies including HVAC Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) to support safety and quality of care for seniors in long-term care and assisted-living facilities;
    • upon notification from the BC Heat Alert and Response System (BC HARS), home health client prioritization protocols are activated and check-ins with at-risk clients and families are arranged through phone calls, and in-person visits as needed. A long-term care home’s response may be initiated based on the facility’s heat-preparedness plan, or through BC HARS;
    • health authorities take extra precautions to limit cancellation of client visits due to staff shortages and illness, such as redeploying staff to support wellness checks and phone calls, shortening visits to extend staff availability, increased use of overtime, and conducting a wellness call if a visit must be cancelled; 
    • staff monitor all residents for signs and symptoms of dehydration and heat exhaustion, and implement measures to support residents, including cool, damp cloths and creating cooling zones in a facility;
    • regional health authorities and the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) are working to establish a new provincial call-in line to support evacuated patients and residential care clients and their families in staying informed and connected throughout this summer;
    • working with members of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to adopt wellness checks as a strategy for supporting vulnerable populations; and
    • implementing a new BC Building Code that requires one space to be 26 C maximum.
  • BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS):
    • investing approximately $1 billion in BCEHS, compared to $475 million in 2017;
    • BCEHS has expanded its workforce, dispatch and response capacity to improve for improved emergency responses and to ensure patient and staff safety during an extreme-heat event, weather and environmental stresses;
    • in response to weather and environmental stresses, BCEHS has strengthened its clinical safety plan and implemented 24/7 provincial operations management to monitor capacity and escalate according to protocols in the plan;
    • added 1,325 in-service hours per day throughout the province, a 19% increase compared to 2022-23;
    • added 134 ground ambulances, 128 non-transport vehicles and five additional dedicated air ambulances since 2017-18;
    • hired 828 new staff in 2023 and more than 1,900 staff have been hired since 2017;
    • paramedics, dispatchers and call-takers now have access to more mental-health supports; BCEHS hired 175 additional clinicians to the network of trauma-informed and occupationally competent counsellors, who provide psychological care, bringing the total to approximately 338.
    • added 18 rural advanced care paramedics in the communities of Campbell River, Whistler, Penticton, Trail, Cranbrook, Williams Lake, Terrace, Fort St. John and Salmon Arm;
    • as of Jan. 1, 2024, there were a total of 159 community paramedic positions, up from 50 in 2017, serving 100 rural and remote communities throughout B.C.; these paramedics support home health monitoring, immunization support, virtual care and integrated care plans;
    • expanded the scope of practice that has resulted in 671 emergency medical responder (EMR) and 104 critical care paramedic (CCP) employees completing their training as of March 2024;
    • BCEHS patients are now accepted at B.C.’s 26 new urgent and primary care centres; and
    • transitioned to new staffing models in 60 rural and remote communities to better meet the needs of employees and the communities they serve.
  • Wildfires and evacuations:
    • Following previous wildfire seasons, all regional health authorities, BCEHS, and a number of health partners all completed wildfire after action reviews which resulted in lessons learned and improvements that are being implemented for this year’s wildfire season.
    • The Ministry of Health also completed a provincial health system wildfire after-action review to identify and implement system-wide lessons learned and areas for improvement.
  • Emergency Health Provider Registry (EHPR):
    • The EHPR is an online registry that supports the voluntary deployment of health-care workers to communities across B.C. during emergency events, such as wildfires and communicable disease outbreaks.
  • Technology:
    • working to expand virtual care by improving patient and provider access to technology that allows medical services to be delivered remotely using tools such as video conferencing and remote patient monitoring technology; this helps with providing continued access to medical services during climate related events; and
    • Health Gateway provides people with secure, convenient online access to their personal health records, wherever they are located.
  • Mental health:
    • working with the provincial Evacuee Support Services (ESS) team at EMCR, both generally and with regards to recommendation 8 of the recent ombudsperson report on evacuee services – https://bcombudsperson.ca/fairness-changing-climate/ess – to develop interim supports for those presenting at evacuee reception centres with mental-health and substance-use (MHSU) related challenges;
    • working with the Provincial Health Services Authority’s (PHSA) Disaster Psychosocial Support Service team and the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness’s Emergency Support Service (ESS) team to ensure that psychosocial first aid and short-term psychological supports are in place where needed in wildfire-impacted communities;
    • developing a mapping tool to assist in planning and response actions related to, among other sites, residential care and assisted living for those with mental-health disorders as well as residential care and assisted living sites for those undergoing addiction treatment; and
    • working with the PHSA’s health emergency management team on preparation of their deployable overdose prevention resources for communities, group lodging centres, and reception centres.
  • Cross-border collaboration:
    • B.C. and the City of Vancouver are collaborating with cross-border partners (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles) on extreme heat preparedness through initiatives like the extreme heat sub-committee of the Pacific Coast Collaborative.

In addition, the BC Centre for Disease Control, in collaboration with the BC Health Effects of Anomalous Temperatures Coordinating Committee (BC HEAT), has created new set of guidelines for clinicians for addressing heat injuries and for planning patient care pathways for discharging heat vulnerable patients and those who may be returning to a hot environment after receiving care.