Record Heat Waves Elevate Risks Globally: Quick Guide for Having a Heat Plan

There’s no doubt about it – heat waves are becoming more frequent, severe and longer in duration. This is a global risk, and climate change research indicates we can expect this trend to continue.  

As average temperatures continue to break records across the world, security and risk practitioners are having to address the impact heat can have on employee safety, business continuity and asset protection. Organizations should reevaluate their preparation and response plans for extreme heat, regardless of location. And it’s not just the heat itself that poses a risk. Extreme heat is a dynamic risk with cascading impacts on travel, event planning, employee health and security operations.  

A deeper dive into this extreme weather event can help risk and resilience professionals gain a better understanding of the threat it poses. I’ve also included an extreme heat quick guide to help keep your people cool and heathy and operations running smoothly.   

Extreme Heat Wave Is Trending 

Extreme heat is defined as “a period of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees for at least two to three days.” This may not sound too alarming depending on where you live and work, but recent statistics show that extreme heat is moving in a dangerous direction in both frequency and severity. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has been tracking heat wave data across major U.S. cities since the 1960s. Key trends have emerged. 

    • Heat waves are becoming more common, increasing from an average of two heat waves per year in the 1960s to six per year during both the 2010s and 2020s. 
    • Heat waves are becoming more intense, with the average heat wave increasing from just under 2°F above the local threshold in the 1960s to 2.3°F above the local threshold. 
    • The heat wave season is now almost 50 days longer compared to when the EPA started recording this data.  

2023 was the hottest summer on record, at 2.59°F above average. Phoenix saw temperatures above 110 degrees every day of July. The ocean water in Florida even broke into the triple digits.  

Summer 2024 is expected to see these trends continue, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting the majority of the U.S. will experience temperatures above normal this summer.  

Heat domes are also an issue. A heat dome is a large area of high pressure that stays over one location, traps air and heats it with lots of sunshine. It can persist for days or even weeks, and the heat becomes more intense with time. California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona were already subjected to a heat dome in very early June, with excessive heat warnings in effect for more than 17 million people.  

Similarly, many urban areas experience a heat island effect. Pavement and concrete reflect and trap heat around densely built buildings that store heat well into the night. This puts tremendous strain on HVAC systems and elevates the risk for populations that don’t have access to climate-controlled environments. 

    • Over the last 12 months, 6.8 billion people (nearly 80 percent of the global population) experienced at least 31 days of extreme heat 
    • In July 2023, 41 percent of southern Europe was under strong, very strong or extreme heat stress, marking the largest area of Europe to be under such conditions on record.  
    • Southeast Asia has been hit by sweltering heat, with climatologists warning deadly heat waves are becoming the norm.  

Dynamic Risk: The Impact of Extreme Heat 

Extreme heat comes with expected consequences when it comes to health. Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke probably jump to mind. Extreme heat is responsible for the highest number of deaths each year among all weather-related risks. As heat waves become more intense, the number of deaths is increasing, rising from 1,602 in 2021 to 1,722 in 2022 and reaching 2,302 in 2023. 

Extreme heat has other cascading impacts, including power outages/power grid failures; event cancellations; decreased productivity at home or in the office; school closures and dangerous public transit; travel delays; and wildfires. 

Beat the Heat Quick Guide 

  • Know your extreme heat risk across all locations. Historical risk analysis of geographic locations provides a literal heat map of extreme heat, helping risk and resilience professionals more accurately pinpoint locations at increased vulnerability. By considering comprehensive factors like topography, population density, housing composition and existing infrastructure, organizations can identify where they should focus and make strategic decisions to better protect employees.  
  • Have a heat plan. A comprehensive heat plan informs your people about what to do during a heat wave. Important topics to cover include: 
    • The importance of frequent hydration 
    • Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke 
    • Plans for making water available to employees working in the office or out in the field 
    • Backup plans to avoid hot and congested public transportation 
    • Plans to ensure air conditioning is working in all facilities 
  • Stay on top of forecasts. With AI-powered risk intelligence, organizations can closely track weather events like extreme heat based on regional and local data from trusted sources. Risk and security teams can monitor forecasts for predictions of dangerous heat waves and track the temperature and humidity in real time.  
  • Communicate in real time with your people. Have a system in place to communicate with your people so you can keep them safe and informed. A mass notification system that supports the creation of contact groups, as well as multimodal and location-based alerts, helps you get the right information to the right people at the right time. Additional capabilities like two-way communication, response options and read receipts let you know who is safe and who needs extra assistance.  
  • Take extra precautions for high-risk people. Some people are at greater risk from extreme heat, such as older populations and people with pre-existing conditions. Employees who work outside are also at higher risk when the temperatures rise. It’s important to identify high-risk individuals in advance and make sure you have a way to protect them. Modern communications technology often has features that enable employees to activate an SOS that connects them directly to medical services, the local fire department, law enforcement or other emergency services while simultaneously alerting their organization. 
  • Keep a constant temperature on travelers. Exposure to extreme heat changes with location, making it critical to remain aware of the risks for traveling employees. The ability to monitor extreme heat threats to employees as their location changes gives organizations the situational awareness needed to protect travelers. An incident hotline can provide traveling employees with 24-7-365 assistance during an extreme heat emergency, ensuring you meet your duty of care. 

The checklist is an additional resource to help you make sure you’re able to keep your people safe and informed during periods of extreme heat, no matter where they are. If you need additional assistance, our intelligence analysts can help with detailed insights and recommendations.  

The mission can feel daunting and the path forward unclear. If you’d like to continue this discussion, provide feedback, or are looking for assistance, OnSolve is here to help.

Nick Hill

Nick Hill is Senior Analyst, Global Risk and Intelligence Services, where he drives intelligence analysis and services implementation to help customers mitigate dynamic risks and strengthen organizational resilience. Prior to his current role, Nick led product development and services implementation for a physical security provider leveraging AI to improve critical incident management. Nick is a former security manager overseeing travel risk management, risk intelligence, and global security operations, and previously served in the Marine Corps overseeing strategic intelligence analysis and production. For more real-time risk and resilience insights follow Nick on LinkedIn.