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GEMA urges safety as mercury soars

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Frank Montagno of Oxford doesn't let the heat prevent him from getting in some practice at the driving range at The Oaks course in Porterdale. Montagno was the lone golfer at the range on a hot afternoon last week. He said he likes to play three to four times a week -- the heat notwithstanding.

Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Frank Montagno of Oxford doesn't let the heat prevent him from getting in some practice at the driving range at The Oaks course in Porterdale. Montagno was the lone golfer at the range on a hot afternoon last week. He said he likes to play three to four times a week -- the heat notwithstanding.

COVINGTON -- Monday marked the first day of summer, though weeks of temperatures in the mid-90s suggested the season arrived before its due date.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency is encouraging Georgians to be prepared and safe while enjoying the summer sun.

GEMA recommends creating a "ready kit" containing essentials such as water, food and a first aid kit, along with items such as batteries, a flashlight and tools in case of an emergency.

More information on what to pack can be obtained at www.ready.ga.gov.

"Harm from summer threats can be mitigated, and Ready Georgia recommends three simple steps to being ready for whatever comes our way: prepare, plan and stay informed," said Lisa Janak Newman, spokeswoman for GEMA.

Of particular concern with this summer's high temperatures is heat exhaustion and heat stroke. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1,500 people in the U.S. die each year from heat exposure. When temperatures soar, the best advice is to stay indoors and drink plenty of fluids.

But, for those who have to be out in the sun, drinking plenty of fluids is essential, according to Jody Nolan, deputy director of Newton County Emergency Risk Management.

Water should primarily be consumed, but drinks that restore electrolytes are also recommended. Nolan advised staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, typically from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Water should be kept on hand in vehicles in case they break down, Nolan said. Those who are out in the sun should avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol, which dehydrate the body quickly, he said.

Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 35 or greater is also a good idea, he said. Those planning to be outdoors should also read any warning labels on prescription or over-the-counter medications, including antibiotics, which can increase the risk of severe sunburn. Special attention should be given to children and the elderly, who have an increased risk of heat-related illness.

Also, it's important to be familiar with the signs, symptoms and treatments for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

A person suffering from heat exhaustion often has cool, moist, pale skin; dilated pupils; increased respiration; and a body temperature at or below normal.

They should be moved to a cool location at once and given water, and any non-essential clothing should be removed.

Signs of heat stroke include hot, dry, red skin; a temperature way above normal, sometimes as high as 104 to 107 degrees; constricted pupils; and increased respiration, pulse and blood pressure.

"Once you transition from exhaustion to stroke, it's very dangerous. A fatality is a very real prospect," Nolan said.

A person suspected to be suffering from heat stroke should be moved to a cool location, have non-essential clothing removed and be placed in a tub with cool, not cold, water. Placing a cold cloth or compress to the armpits and groin area can help temperature drop quickly.

In all cases of suspected heat exhaustion and heat stroke, 911 should be called, as both conditions will likely require IV fluids, Nolan said.