Extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, claiming, on average, more lives each year than tornadoes, lightning, rain, floods, and hurricanes combined. Extreme heat results in hundreds of fatalities in the US each year, many of whom are elderly, poor, and/or uninsured persons.
All areas of California experience problems with heat; however, local public health officials have observed that people living near areas with consistent extreme heat (eg, Mojave Desert) better understand how to adapt than people living in areas where extreme heat is abnormal (eg, along the coast). Evidence from global climate change models suggests that extreme heat incidences in California will increase in the future.
Communicating effectively with limited-English proficient populations before and during a heat wave is integral to minimizing heat-related illness and mortality. Planners may need to develop materials in other languages in communities where many people speak or read languages other than English.
The California Department of Public Health developed fact sheets on preventing and treating summer heat illness and translated the materials into 12 languages.
The California Department of Public Health developed a fact sheet on heat illness in 2008 and translated the English version into 12 languages based the languages used by the state’s Medicaid population. Heat illness fact sheets are distributed annually to local health departments and available for free download and printing year-round on the agency’s Web site.
The first page of the fact sheet suggests ways to prevent summer heat illness, including, drink plenty of water, wear light clothing and sunscreen, find a cool location indoors, schedule outdoor activities carefully, pace activities, and check on friends and family.
The second page of the fact sheet provides tips on how to identify and treat summer heat illnesses, such as, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and sunburn.
Fact sheets are available in Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, English, Farsi, Hmong, Korean, Laotian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
What made this practice possible?
- Identifying local languages. The agency identified local languages through the state’s Medicaid program.
- Translating the fact sheets. The agency contracted with an external firm to translate the English fact sheet into 12 languages.
- Involving partners. The chronic disease department was consulted during the development phase. Community members were involved in reviewing translated documents for accuracy and cultural appropriateness.
- Expanding emergency preparedness to an all-hazards approach. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, emergency preparedness agencies increased their attention on bioterrorism. Emergency preparedness agencies have now broadened their scope beyond bioterrorism to include all hazards, including extreme heat.
The health department continues to distribute the fact sheet year-round, with special distribution during heat waves, in order to meet the language needs of local residents.
Additional fact sheets are available online, in English and 12 additional languages, on the following topics: anthrax, botulism, chlorine, isolation and quarantine, plague, ricin, sarin, smallpox, and tularemia.