Air Quality Action Day prompts Niles cooling center to open

It was another day of above 90 degree temperatures in the area.

And while some cities and towns aren’t opening emergency cooling centers just yet, the city of Niles, Mich. responded to the National Weather Service’s heat advisory alert by setting up a cooling center this week.

Mayor Mike McCauslin and Fire Dept. Chief Larry Lamb say cooling centers automatically open whenever the National Weather Service issues an advisory, or when temperatures rise to 90 degrees. Based on this week’s projected temperatures, McCauslin said the center will be open for the next three to four days.

“It's kind of a fall-safe just in case community residents have a place to go if they don't have any other place to get cool,” said Lamb, “As the summer heats up and humidity goes above a certain level some people don't have the means or ability to get cool.”

Niles' center opened in the City Council Chambers, located in the same building as the Fire Department. It’s opened 24 hours and offers bottled water along with air conditioning for anyone who wishes to take advantage of it.

Additionally, Niles Dial A Ride Transportation System will offer one free ride per person per day to and from the cooling center. Rides can be requested by calling (269) 684-5150.

Lamb said that the center is under-utilized, a sentiment reiterated by St. Joseph County Emergency Manager, William Zimmerman.

“Let’s face it people from this area are used to extreme weather so they find ways to take care of themselves,” Lamb added.

St. Joseph County Emergency Management Dept. works closely with the Health Dept. and the Mayor’s Office to monitor the heat index and determine what, if any segments of the population will be at risk.

When temperatures go over 100 degrees for three consecutive days, or if they exceed 105 degrees for one day, centers will open in St. Joseph County.

Zimmerman said the county opened centers the past few years and had, “very limited people show up.” Considering the centers require staffing from the emergency department and the Red Cross, the guidelines for opening them are higher.

Before the temperatures rise to levels that warrant cooling centers, Zimmerman said there are other options for staying cool: “If there are power outages or other issues going on we tell folks to go to the library or the mall or some public building with air conditioning to cool off.”

Whether it’s Niles, Mich. or St. Joseph County, Ind. the number one priority in opening the centers is to assure the safety and security of residents.

“It’s the weather people are used to, and the way it impacts them when it gets very hot—you could dehydrate or have problems,” said Zimmerman.

Dehydration and heat exhaustion were concerns on Wednesday when the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management declared an Air Quality Action Day, meaning ozone levels were expected to be in the orange, or “unhealthy,” for sensitive group range. Active children and adults, as well as individuals with respiratory disease are most vulnerable.

The Air Quality Action was in effect for La Porte, St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties in Indiana. Over at the Potawatomi Pool, aquatic supervisor, Abby Haugh, said they are hyper aware of the dangers of the heat.

“When it’s hotter everyone swarms the pool because it’s that sense of relief,” said Haugh. The biggest concern with people outside in the sun all day is adequate hydration.

“Sometimes we see heat exhaustion and sometimes that leads to heat stroke,” said Haugh, “You'll see moist, pale skin. They'll get tired, fatigued, get really kind of dizzy.” That’s when lifeguards tend to pull pool-goers aside into the shade and medical attention.

Haugh recommends people cool their entire body off two to three times per day, “just because you’re in a pool, yeah it’s cooling you down, but you’re not drinking the water so hydration is key.”


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