issues and experts

Heat dome mortality report: SFU Expert available

June 07, 2022

A report released today by the BC Coroners Service looks at how to prevent heat-related deaths in the future ahead of the one-year anniversary of B.C.’s record-setting heat dome.

Alex Boston, executive director of Renewable Cities at Simon Fraser University served on a panel appointed by B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe to review the hundreds of deaths following B.C.’s extreme heat event that occurred June 25 - July 1, 2021.

Boston notes that strengthening emergency management and response to extreme heat events is important and that it is also critical to focus on prevention. 

His contributions focus on actions that can be taken to identify and effectively manage long-term risk factors that increase vulnerability to extreme heat - such as the growth in one-person and senior households, rapidly declining urban tree canopies and current low levels of home retrofit activity.

Among his key points to prevent catastrophic heat-related mortality events:


Reverse the urban heat island effect 

Neighbourhoods with weak urban tree canopy, low greenspace and extensive concrete and asphalt were associated with heat-related mortality during the 2021 heat dome.

  • Protect and restore the urban tree canopy in neighbourhoods and create more accessible green spaces 
  • Create cool parks with abundant tree canopy, water features and shaded places to connect within a short walk from medium density and greater neighbourhoods

These priorities should be integrated into provincial commitments to craft a “Climate Lens” for Official Community Plans and Regional Growth Strategies and update the Local Government Act.

Reduce isolation

Disproportionately represented in the mortality record were one-person households (56 per cent) and the elderly, notably men over 60 years old and women over 70. 

  • Encourage development that supports secondary suites in single detached homes.  
  • Support programs run by non-profit housing providers that foster social interaction for interested seniors that have a secondary suite. For example, offering discounted rent in exchange for basic services such as cooking, shopping, yard work, dog walking, etc.

Design, build & adapt for cooling

  • Include natural systems such as green and blue roofs, green walls, trees and water features as well as building design systems such as canopies, white roofs, insulation and thermal towers 
  • Adopt a target to capture and clean most rainfall on site to support trees and green space that provide shading and retain water for cooling through evapotranspiration
  • Homes not able to be cooled through passive design should include air conditioning. Optimal systems are heat-pump driven, providing heating, cooling and air filtration services, and ultra-energy efficient. 

These priorities should be integrated into the next Building Code and the new retrofit code under development (i.e. the Alterations Code for Energy Efficient, Resilient Buildings).

Boston adds that smart preventative action can have other benefits for communities, such as greenhouse gas reductions, addressing affordability and social isolation, increasing energy security during extreme heat events, and creating multi-purpose green spaces that mitigate climate risks and provide recreation and active travel infrastructure. 


ALEX BOSTON, Executive Director, Renewable Cities, 
Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue
604.928.2347 |


MELISSA SHAW, SFU  Communications & Marketing 
236.880.3297 |

Simon Fraser University
Communications & Marketing |  SFU Media Experts Directory


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