Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baltimore City's Code Blue Program Offers Relief from the Cold

While Baltimoreans enjoyed a brief reprieve from the bitter recently, anyone who has stepped outside this morning feels how brisk our city gets at this time of year.

The plummeting temperatures and wind chill present a serious danger, and that is why Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Department of Human Services joined with the Health Department to announce the start of the Code Blue winter weather program.  This program establishes a coordinated approach to providing relief from extreme cold weather to vulnerable populations in Baltimore City during the winter season.

Throughout the winter, Code Blue days are declared based on the following criteria:

  • temperatures are expected to be below 25 degrees Fahrenheit with sustained winds of 15 mph or higher;
  • or when temperatures are expected to be less than or equal to 20 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • or when other conditions are severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of vulnerable Baltimore citizens.

On Code Blue days, the Mayor’s Office of Human Services will open the homeless shelter at 210 Guilford Avenue for extended hours. The shelter will provide meals and sleeping quarters and will not turn away patrons. Homeless Services has also funded an overflow shelter to provide 100 additional beds for vulnerable residents. Private homeless shelters will be encouraged to use these same guidelines.

The ultimate goal of the Code Blue program is to reduce the number of deaths from hypothermia. Last year, 8 Baltimore residents died from hypothermia-related illnesses. These were highly preventable deaths. Even with the expansion of services on Code Blue days, it is important for all residents to look out for their neighbors, especially those at risk for hypothermia.  Based on the historical data, we know people in Baltimore City most vulnerable include the elderly, individuals with pre-existing heart conditions, those who abuse alcohol and or drugs and the homeless. Know the signs of hypothermia: people who are hypothermic may be lethargic and confused – they can look like they’re intoxicated, when really they’re sick and need medical attention.

Extreme cold weather presents risks in addition to hypothermia as residents use prohibited alternative heat or power sources, such as a stoves and generators that may cause fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. We especially want to reach out to our seniors and other vulnerable populations who are most at-risk during these events. If one of your neighbors is without heat or power, notify 311 so that city agencies can assist them. Caution must be used even when using an approved heating source; be sure to keep space heaters and candles away from flammable materials, such as curtains, furniture and loose clothing. 

Most importantly, in all seasons, you must have working smoke detectors in your house. Baltimore residents can visit any local fire station, or call 311 to make certain there are working smoke detectors in their homes. If you do not have a smoke alarm, you can get one for free from the Fire Department.

Stay warm, B’more!

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