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DES Home > EMQ Home > Community Safety and Sustainability > Heatwave


What defines a heatwave?

A heatwave can be defined as a prolonged period of excessive heat.  In Australia excessive heat can vary from 37°C to 42°C. 
A heatwave occurs when there are a number of consecutive days with above average temperature, often combined with high humidity.
This unusual and uncomfortable hot weather can impact on human and animal health and cause disruption to community infrastructure such as power supply, public transport and services.

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Who is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave?

Although everyone is vulnerable to the affects of a heatwave, those most at risk are:

Job factors – home and the workplace
Whether you are at home or in the workplace, heat related illness can be caused through a combination of job factors; such as:

During periods of prolonged hot weather the Queensland Ambulance Service paramedics see an increase in emergency calls from people suffering heat related illnesses.  Whilst the very young and the elderly are most at risk, anyone can be affected

Heat related illness occurs when body temperature increases through absorbing more heat than can be dispelled.  This may develop slowly over a day or two of very hot weather.  Prompt action can avoid the serious, or even fatal, consequences of fully developed heat stroke.  

Seek medical advice if you are concerned for your or another’s well-being.

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Ways you can prepare for a heatwave

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Things you can do to prevent heat related illness

Whilst most people are potentially at risk of experiencing discomfort during extremely hot weather; babies and children under four years, seniors, older people living alone and people with a chronic condition or illness are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of a heatwave.
Look after yourself and help friends, relatives and neighbours, particularly the elderly or people with disabilities and pass on warnings, checking their meanings are understood.

Drink water regularly

Keep out of the heat

Stay cool

Monitor animals and pets for heat stress
Animals and Pets can be affected by heat related illness and anyone in charge of an animal, livestock or a pet has a duty of care to provide food, water and appropriate shelter for the animal. 

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Signs and Symptoms of heat related illness

Although the presence of symptoms may vary from person to person, below is a list of common signs and symptoms of heat related illness that can affect people. 

  • Sunburn
  • Flushed or pale skin 
  • Heat risk or prickly heat
  • Cramps
  • Heat exhaustion*
  • Heat stroke*
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Fainting/collapse
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Changes to the level of consciousness (eg disorientation, drowsiness)

* Heat stroke can affect a person engaging in physical activity who has not been identified as suffering from heat exhaustion and who has persisted in further activity.  Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can still occur where there has been good hydration.

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First Aid

What you can do to assist anyone needing first aid:

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Further information and reading:

Queensland Ambulance Service

First Aid hints:
Calling for an Ambulance:
CPR Chart:
Information for Senior Citizens:
Babies and Young Children:
Engaging in Physical Activity:

Queensland Health

Workplace Health and Safety

Animals, Livestock and Pets

Bureau of Meteorology

Emergency Management Australia

Hazards, Disasters and Survival - A booklet for Students and the Community
For Schools:

Geoscience Australia

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Last Updated 18 December 2011