Heat Messages

So, it’s hot. Out west, back east, feels like everywhere. For those of us in public health and emergency services, heat is a big deal as it’s estimated that more than 650 people die heat-related deaths every year. And with weather experts believing these types of events will happen more often, this is something we should be preparing for.

And lots of forward-leaning health departments are out there messaging away on social media:

They’re doing a great job adapting traditional risk communication messaging to social media and doing it in a timely manner and using appropriate means. Kudos, really. But, do either of those tweets inspire you? Not the public health you, but the normal-person-with-fifty-things-to-do you. Probably not. They’re the right messages, they’re good risk communication, but in today’s media saturated world, is that enough anymore?

I don’t think so, so given that it’s a holiday, I’m taking some liberties with the blog and am going to post on what my heat warning messaging looked like last year. I had a ton of fun with it and picked up a chunk of new followers. I like to think it was an attempt to step outside of our traditional, staid, risk communication messaging; certainly not best practice.

On June 20th and 22nd, I went on what I called PhillyHeatWalks. I rolled up my sleeves, loosened my tie, grabbed a bottle of water and headed out to take pictures of hot people. (Literally hot people, I made no distinctions about their physical attractiveness.) Here’s the first set, here’s the second. I was looking for people at famous Philadelphia spots, doing their best to stay cool during 90+ degree temperatures. Kids in fountains, folks with umbrellas, stacks of ice-cold water bottles, empty parks. I wanted to make our recommendations more than just a fact sheet. I wanted to bring it into reality. Show people doing those things we talk about. I don’t know how successful it was, but I’m going to do it again.

But it’s not just me doing cool things on social media trying to spread the word about being safe in the heat. In fact, yesterday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment did something I’d never seen before: a Twitterchat on the heat!

Now this is, or should be, a best practice. Any time there’s an event that is generating public interest, we should be ready to discuss it openly and frankly with the public. Give us a chance to give our approved risk communication messages to the interested public. I might follow their lead during our next Excessive Heat Warning!

Finally, the following is a video by a veterinarian who is trying to get folks to understand why you shouldn’t leave pets in the car during heat events. Normally, those types of videos would include a talking head and some facts about how much the temperature in a car can rise in so many minutes. Dr. Ward, though, wants to show you. And the effect is powerful. Certainly more powerful than our bland fact sheets.