NYC Health Department: Health Warning for People in Homes with No Heat

Dec 4, 2012, 10:30 AM

Though temperatures early this week in New York City have climbed to nearly 60 degrees, by Wednesday the overnight low is expected to drop below freezing. That’s why the city’s health department has issued a hypothermia warning to people in homes still without heat. As of last week, according to the Mayor’s Office, 11,000 people in the region still had not had their power restored. Some families have power but still no heat because pipes damaged by the storm have not yet been fixed.

“The weather is getting colder,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, told New Yorkers. “Living in cold buildings is not good for your health. If your building heat is not going to be restored very soon, look for another warm place to live until it is. And check on your family, friends and neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, to see if they need help getting to a warm place. Hypothermia, or very low body temperature is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia can happen gradually and without the person realizing how serious it is.”

According to Farley, the symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, weakness, sleepiness, confusion, and lack of coordination. In infants, signs of hypothermia may include cold, bright red skin, or very low energy. A body temperature below 95°F (35°C) is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately.

The health department’s advisory warns that prolonged time without heat can cause hypothermia and worsen heart disease and other medical problems, especially for infants, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and people with mental illness or substance abuse problems.

To help get people out of the cold, the city is taking many actions:  

  • Urging people who can, to move to temporary housing until the heat is restored.
  • Working with building owners in affected areas to ensure that utilities are restored as quickly as possible, and issuing fines for unnecessary delays.
  • Going door-to-door, with support from the National Guard, to identify people in multi-unit buildings in need of service. City health department staff then follows up by visiting homes to assess need, and distribute blankets and electric blankets for those with power that choose to remain at home.
  • Advising building owners and tenants that they can get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the city Restoration Centers for housing vouchers and relocation assistance. Residents can call the city’s help line, 311, for information on FEMA assistance and shelters.
  • Offering day time warming centers.
  • Issuing reminders via all forms of communication that people using generators to run their heat should be very careful to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by never using portable generators indoors, in garages or near open windows.

The city also has a first of its kind post-storm initiative that has already helped many New Yorkers return to their homes: NYC Rapid Repairs. The program is partnering teams of contractors and City inspectors to restore power, heat and hot water at homes impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The program has begun making repairs and restoring service at homes and has so far authorized $500 million for the program. The program is run in partnership with FEMA and the repairs are done at no cost to the residents, who can sign up or by calling 311. To get assistance from Rapid Repairs, people must register for a FEMA ID number from or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

As of this week, nearly 7,000 homes have enrolled in the program. 

By the Numbers:

Some critical winter-related supplies distributed in cooperation with the Mayor’s Office so far:  

  • 1,552 winter hats
  • 3,780 winter gloves
  • 3,863 socks
  • 4,000 hand-warmers
  • 10,758 D batteries
  • 15,830 C batteries
  • 1,496 AA batteries
  • 170,856 blankets
  • 3,435 flashlights/lanterns


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.