ROCKVILLE—Montgomery County has a plan in place in the event of extreme summer heat when the risk of hyperthermia is greatest.
Hyperthermia, or when your body is dangerously overheated, is usually attributed to overexposure to hot, humid weather.
Montgomery County puts its extreme-heat plan in place when outdoor temperatures are expected to rise above 95 degrees. The county also puts out Heat Emergency Alerts when county-wide temperatures are expected to rise to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or other conditions are met. Conditions can include the possibility of extreme heat longer than two days or other weather threats determined by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
“July and August are generally the county’s hottest months, and it can be expected that hyperthermia alerts on extreme heat days will continue throughout the summer,” according to county officials in a statement.
In Montgomery County, during episodes of excessive heat, homeless shelters operate as cooling centers during the day, allowing residents of the shelters to return after work or daytime activities to cool off. County buildings such as libraries, swimming pools, recreation and senior centers are all designated locations for people to cool off during normal business hours, according to the county.
High temperatures are especially concerning for older residents, sick individuals and pets. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hyperthermia is caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms the body usually employs. In other words, hyperthermia occurs when sweat is not getting the job done and blood vessels have done all they can.
Hyperthermia can result in heat fatigue and heat stroke.
“Heat fatigue, or heat syncope (can cause) sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to heat, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are commonly known forms of hyperthermia,” the NIH wrote. “Risk for these conditions can increase with the combination of outside temperature, general health and individual lifestyle.”
The NIH outlines lifestyle factors that can lead to hyperthermia, such as not drinking enough liquids, which makes it harder to sweat. Other factors include living in housing without air conditioning, lack of mobility and lack of access to safe transportation.
Older individuals, especially those dealing with chronic medical conditions, are at a higher risk for heat fatigue and heat stroke.
Hotter temperatures also increase the number of days with high levels of air pollution, which is especially bad for asthma sufferers or those with chronic breathing issues.
Heat stroke is more dangerous than heat fatigue and can be life-threatening. According to the NIH, heat stroke occurs when the body reaches a temperature at or above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Marianne Souders serves as the planning division chief of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in Montgomery County. She explained that for student-athletes participating in summer training, it’s important to remain hydrated to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and is unable to control its temperature,” the NIH wrote. “Heat stroke occurs when someone’s body temperature increases significantly and has symptoms such as mental status changes like confusion or combativeness, strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering or coma.”
The NIH recommends urging a person struggling with heat stroke outdoors to lie down in a shady area and to cool off with a shower, bath or sponge bath.
“Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood,” NIH wrote.
Souders also suggested that people who work out outdoors should avoid strenuous activity during the hottest times of the day. Instead, she recommended working out early in the morning or in the late evening (with proper reflective gear) to beat the heat.
Souders explained that it is her office’s main priority to alert the county when high temperatures are expected to linger or in the winter when people are in danger of hypothermia.
“(When temperatures reach extreme levels) we always send an alert out to help; they outline the temperatures and resources and where to go,” she said. “It was done in conjunction with many different agencies like the Red Cross, the Health and Human Services Department, police and Animal Control, because we include the interest of animals as well.”
Souders explains that in preparation for dangerous temperatures, officials will hold a conference call to decide how long cooling shelters should remain open and what resources should be made available if there is a power outage.
The alert comes from a system called Alert Montgomery, which residents can opt-into by adding their contact information. Souders explained that participants can get a text message, an email or a phone call from Alert Montgomery, or all three if they choose.
“We also have everything we do on social media like Twitter and Facebook, (so those) who have not signed up, we hope will still see alerts,” she said.
According to the county, residents can also reach out to the new Homeless Hotline to express concern for a homeless individual. The hotline can be reached at 240-907-2688.