Utility companies have been carefully monitoring energy consumption, and in California, record-breaking
energy usage has had the state on the brink of shut-offs several times this summer.
On Friday in South Dakota, temperatures soared to a record-breaking 107 degrees.
In Texas, the Texas Public Utility Commission passed an emergency rule on electricity disconnection.
Through the end of September, an electric customer cannot be disconnected for nonpayment but instead
can arrange to pay air conditioning or fan bills in installments over the cooler fall months.
State health departments keep track of heat-related deaths but not heat-related illness, said Doug McBride,
spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health. "This summer we did a special survey because of the
extreme heat and drought. Some people who died had air conditioning but they didn't turn it on because
they couldn't afford it."
Gordon Anderson, spokesperson for the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program in Texas, said that
high heat and humidity poses a health concern particularly for elderly and disabled people. "People afraid
to run the air conditioner -- because of the high bills -- sometimes make a decision between running the
a/c and death."
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management has been carefully monitoring water sources, and
is also working with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to coordinate donations for air
conditioners and electric bills, said Ron Hill, deputy director.
In Arkansas - where a third person died from heat this week - the Department of Health distributes
information about the steps people can take to avoid heat-related illnesses, said Ann Wright,
Churches and voluntary organizations have a definite role to play in heat response, said Tim Burke, a
Federal Emergency Management Agency voluntary agency liaison based in Kansas City. "Here in Kansas
City, the Salvation Army works with a local news station to do a program for the elderly and air
The news station collects monetary donations, then turns the money over to the Salvation Army, which
purchases air conditioners and distributes them to those most in need.
In Kansas City, if heat indices creep above 110 degrees for another day, there could be a heat emergency
declared, said Burke. Then, day shelters may be opened for the public, and 24-hour shelters may be
opened for elderly or disabled people who can't get out of the heat.
"A community-wide effort has to go into place," said Burke. "Check on your neighbor."
Church World Service (CWS) Disaster Resource Facilitator (DRF) Norm Hein added that heat response is
in place in Austin, TX as well. "We have programs like fan drives, and another Meals on Wheels program
purchases portable air conditioning units for elderly people, then helps them pay the bills."
Hein agreed with Burke that heat response must take place on a neighbor-to-neighbor level, too. "Take an
older person into your home for the afternoon. Or take an older person to the mall."
Burke and Hein called attention to the fact that, when temperatures get too high, fans become detrimental.
If people shut their windows, turn fans on high, and seal themselves off, the room begins to act like a
convection oven, generating fatal heat in a comparatively short amount of time.
Cheri Baer, also a CWS DRF, said volunteer work teams who are rebuilding homes on disaster sites should
take precautions with the heat. "We have a couple of people who can't tolerate the heat, so they agree to
cook for the rest of the team," she said. "Also, we get on the work site from 6 a.m. to noon."
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