Prepare for heatwave

During the twentieth century, extreme heat events were responsible for more deaths in Australia than any other natural hazard but few people are aware of the dangers of heat stress. Extreme heat is a unique natural hazard because the effects are primarily on human health rather than potential property damage as in the case of other natural hazards. There is a spectrum of potential impacts from extreme heat ranging from increased rates of illness and minor disruption to society, to severely increased rates of illness, death and major disruption to society with wide ranging consequences (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011). Another important factor is the confluence of hazards, as during an extreme heat event the risk of bushfire is increased, further stretching emergency response efforts.

Our changing climate is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of extreme heat events. CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) report that the "Australian annual-average daily maximum temperatures have increased by 0.75°C since 1910 and that the Australian annual-average daily mean temperatures showed little change from 1910 to 1950 but have progressively warmed since, increasing by 0.9 °C from 1910 to 2011" (CSIRO, BOM, 2012). These small changes in average temperature will have a significant impact on the number of hot days and heatwaves that occur (OEH, 2011).

There are lots of simple steps you can take to prepare your home, yourself and to help others before and during an extreme heat event. Before an extreme heat event you can make changes to your home that will help make your home a cooler space and make a plan of action for during the extreme heat event. During an extreme heat event you can activate your plan and carry out simple steps to help you and others around you cope in the heat. Many of the home preparation options will also provide other benefits such as improvements in indoor air quality and reduced exposure to extreme cold.


Extreme heat includes 'hot days' and 'heatwaves'. The working definition for a hot day is a day with a maximum temperature, above a set threshold (this threshold varies by location).  A heatwave occurs when there are a number of consecutive days with above average temperature, often combined with high humidity (Emergency Management QLD, QLD Government, 2012).

Who is most at risk in extreme heat events?

Extreme heat can affect everyone, but depending on a number of factors it can impact some people more than others. The risk of heat-related illnesses increases with natural ageing but people with particular social and/or physical vulnerability are also more at risk (Kovats & Hajat, 2008). Vulnerable population groups include people with the following characteristics or circumstances, although the links are not clear in all categories:

  • older people (65 years and older)
  • children under five years old
  • pregnant or nursing mothers
  • people with a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, heart-disease, kidney disease or mental illness.
  • people with a condition that impairs the body's abilities to regulate its own temperature like Multiple Sclerosis
  • those living alone with little social contact
  • people taking certain medications, such as those for depression or insomnia, people with a disability.
  • people without air-conditioning or who decide not to use it
  • homeless people
  • low income earners
  • those with limited access to transport
  • people who are outdoors for any reason, especially doing strenuous activity like working or playing sports
  • residents in the upper floors of multi-storey buildings
  • some people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who cannot access health services or information.

(Victorian Government, 2009).

Preliminary research suggests that extreme heat as a natural hazard is most often dealt with through health and emergency management messaging around the correct actions to take during an extreme heat event. These active measures are likely to be most effective during the extreme heat event but there is a number of retrofitting and preparation measures that homeowners can take to prepare and increase their resilience to extreme heat. These particular measures focus on managing the thermal comfort inside the home and should be used in conjunction with the active measures or adaptations.



  • Make a list of who you can call if you need help including doctors or your nearest hospital.
  • Make a list of cooler locations you could easily get to and how to get to them such as your library, shopping centre or cinema.
  • Prepare for likely health vulnerabilities: take advice from your doctor if you have any medical conditions that might be worsened in an extreme heat event.
  • Regularly check your local forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology on your radio, TV or on the internet.
  • Extreme heat increases the risk of bushfire. Know what to do in case of a bushfire. Information on bushfire preparedness is available from the Queensland Rural Fire Service.



  • Put together a small emergency kit to plan for a possible power failure - this may include a torch, batteries, candles, matches, a battery operated radio and a first aid kit. For an example of what to include in your emergency kit. Keep your emergency kit in an easy to access area in case of a power failure.
  • If you will be out of the house during the day shade the windows before you leave in the morning.
  • Check that your home can be properly ventilated without compromising security.
  • Check your fridges, freezers, fans and air-conditioners to make sure they work properly and make sure your air conditioning is set to cool.
  • More



  • Stock up on food (for your household and pets), water and medicines to last up to a week so you don't have to go out in a heatwave or if transport links are limited due to power supply problems that can occur during extreme heat events. Consider buying cool foods with high water content such as cucumbers and melons. The colder these foods are when consumed the more they will help you keep cool. Have food on hand that you can prepare without cooking such as salads and sandwiches.
  • Consider buying cool packs to have in the fridge or freezer to help you cool down if needed.



  • Know the signs of heat stress so you can help yourself and others should you need to.  Types of work, environment, air temperature, humidity and the physical condition of an individual are all factors in the occurrence of heat stress. 
  • Talk to your doctor about any issues you may have during an extreme heat event such as side effects from particular medications.
  • Get advice from your doctor about whether your medication and/or your medical conditions may affect what you should do if it gets extremely hot.
  • If your doctor normally limits your fluids, check how much to drink in hot weather.
  • Check that you can store your medication at less than 25°C  (some medications can become less effective or occasionally toxic if stored at higher temperatures - check with your pharmacist if unsure)



  • Add a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant to prevent excess moisture loss.
  •  Erect a shade structure out overheatsusceptible plants.
  • Wait until the heat has passed before cutting any affected foliage as it helps protect the undergrowth.
  • Water plants deeply before an expected extreme heat event.
  • Move pots out of the direct sun and into a shaded position.
  • Avoid fertilising stressed plants and instead use fortnightly applications of liquid seaweed (Gardening Australia, ABC).