What a ‘Code Red’ and a ‘Heat Health Emergency’ mean for Philly residents

A cyclist rides in the day’s diminishing light

A cyclist rides in the day’s diminishing light, Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

During extremely hot weather — when the forecast includes at least three consecutive days of 95-degree Fahrenheit temperatures and above with high humidity — Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services will declare a Code Red.

What does that mean for Philly residents?

During a Code Red event, the city implements special measures to keep people experiencing homelessness safe. Those measures include 24-hour outreach to find unhoused people and transport them to safe indoor spaces and opening all available beds within the city’s emergency housing network for those in need.

A Heat Health Emergency, which often overlaps with a Code Red, is declared by the city when the expected heat index meets thresholds that track when people go to the hospital for heat-related syndromes, according to James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

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An HHE declaration kicks off the city’s response to extreme heat, including extended hours at some libraries acting as cooling centers, and utility shutoff pauses.

Understanding, and coping with, extreme heat

Extreme heat is a major health concern, and can be deadly. Heat-related illness kills more people nationally than hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the climate continues to warm, scientists say residents need to pay attention to not just the overall temperature, but humidity levels as well. Even in the shade, sitting outside amid high temperatures with high humidity puts residents at risk of heatstroke.

Vulnerable populations face heightened risk, including older adults, infants and young children, people who are pregnant, people experiencing homelessness, and people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.

Extreme heat disproportionately impacts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Areas like Hunting Park, where residents are predominantly Black and Latino, have surface temperatures up to 22 degrees higher than in the city’s leafier areas.

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During a Heat Health Emergency, the city of Philadelphia urges residents to go to an air-conditioned space. If air conditioning is unavailable, residents may visit the city’s cooling centers and spraygrounds. Residents are also encouraged to keep blinds and curtains closed during the day, open windows to let in a breeze if it cools down at night, and take cold showers or baths to help stay cool.

How to help

If residents see a person who appears to be unhoused during a Code Red, they are urged to request a street outreach team by contacting the city’s Homeless Outreach hotline at 215-232-1984.

Residents concerned about an older adult during extremely hot weather are urged to contact the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging HeatLine at 215-765-9040.

During extreme heat, public health officials urge Philadelphians to check on their elderly neighbors and relatives. Residents are also urged to call 911 if they see someone exhibiting symptoms of heatstroke, including rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.

Plenty of nonprofits and mutual aid groups also collect donations, both monetary and physical, to help people in need. Below are a few in the Philly area:

What about Philly pets?

During Code Red events, all dogs must be either indoors or have access to shelter that meets the following requirements:

  • Suitable size to accommodate the dog both standing and lying
  • Made of durable material with a solid, moisture-proof floor raised at least two inches from the ground
  • Access to drinking water available in a clean, liquid state
  • Free from excessive dirt, trash, and waste
  • One or more areas of shade large enough to accommodate their entire body and protect them from the direct rays of the sun

Violations of the city ordinance may result in penalties of $500 or more.

If residents see a pet outside during a Code Red, they are urged to contact Philadelphia’s Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) at 267-385-3800 and dial 1 to speak with the dispatcher. Residents may also file a report online will all of the available information.

ACCT also provides free straw for caretakers or owners of pets and community cats who spend most or all of their time outdoors.

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