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Preparing for Extreme Heat: The New Natural Disaster

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The word “hot” has many connotations: it can reveal anger when you say someone is “hot around the collar”; it can invoke personal appeal or desirability “he’s so hot”; it can refer to a disorganized person or situation, hence the description as “a hot mess”; and can also be used to describe an emotional issue or topic as a “hot button”. However, since the earliest of times, the word hot has been used to describe the temperature and we’ve been hearing this word a lot lately in many parts of the US given the ongoing heat waves. More than 61,000 people died in 2022 because of the heat waves that swept the European continent. We won’t know for some time how many US fatalities have occurred due to our extreme heat during the summer of 2023.

Extreme heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, exacerbation of existing medical and mental health conditions, respiratory distress, and heatstroke. Dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue, and muscle weakness. Heat exhaustion may result in heavy sweating, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, faintness, and muscle cramps. Extreme heat can more greatly affect people with underlying respiratory, cardiovascular and kidney disorders with extreme heat being tied to an increased risk of heart attacks or other cardiovascular events. Heatwaves have also been linked to diminished air quality in urban areas which can worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma. Lastly, extreme heat can impact mental well-being, leading to irritability, mood swings and difficulty concentrating, all of which can make communal living more stressful.

Dealing with extreme heat events in a multifamily building, especially for those on fixed incomes, can be challenging. What should your association board and management team be doing in response to an extreme heat event? Certainly, including preparation for heat waves into your emergency disaster plan is recommended. The following are some items you may wish to consider:

  • If your association has employees, work with counsel to review your employee guidebook particularly for employees whose work requires them to be outdoors. For those employees, you will want to be sure that they have access to plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and replace fluids lost through perspiration. If those employees are required to wear a certain uniform that is not well suited to an extreme heat event, you should consider an alternate uniform for extreme heat event. You may also want to be confirm that your outside vendors who provide services outdoors have provided adequate water and protection from the sun for their workers.
  • Create shade around the building by using umbrellas, awnings, or strategically placed vegetation to reduce the impact of direct sunlight. Bear in mind that some of these shade additions may require advance membership approval.
  • Revisit any architectural control guidelines you have in place which may restrict or prohibit the use of fans on patios, balconies and lanais. Fans are used to circulate air and can create a cooling effect. Consider how curtains, blinds and blackout shades may reduce the temperature inside units particularly if a unit owner is not running the AC at reasonable temperatures. Allow people to close their blinds and/or their hurricane shutters during the day to block out direct
    sunlight and prevent heat from entering the living space.
  • Consider limiting daytime hours of play for outdoor tennis and pickleball courts as well as any other outdoor recreational areas when temperatures are soaring. Installing thermometers on the common areas may also help remind your residents about climbing temperatures.
  • Consider purchasing a whole building generator if you don’t already have one. In the event that increased electric demands during a heat wave cause a blackout or brownout that generator may save lives in your building. Naturally, a generator will also help in the aftermath of a windstorm which knocks out electricity.
  • Check in with your residents who may be living alone and dealing with physical or mental health challenges as well as economic burdens. These residents may not be running their A/C as often or at a
    temperature that is needed for their wellbeing. This is also the time to confirm that you have emergency contacts for your residents.
  • Reach out to local community organizations, social services, or government agencies that provide assistance during extreme weather events. They may offer cooling centers, fan distribution programs, or other resources for your residents.

The strategies your board and management team use in response to an extreme heat event depends, in large part, on your building’s location and infrastructure as well as the available monetary and personnel resources. However, there are some basic steps all associations can take to educate their residents about the dangers of extreme heat. The phrase, “we’re having a heat wave” doesn’t have to spell disaster in a well-prepared community.

For additional information please listen to my podcast conversation with Jane Gilbert, Miami-Dade’s Chief Heat Officer which can be found here.

Donna DiMaggio Berger is a Shareholder with the Becker law firm, is Board-certified, is a Fellow with the College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL) and is a keynote speaker and the host of the popular Take It To The Board podcast on association issues.

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