Unhealthy Air/Smoke Event

In recent years, the Bay Area has experienced unprecedented fires and dense smoke, which are the result of years of impacts brought on by climate change. The reality is that heavy smoke will be in our future, so we all need to prepare ourselves, our homes, our loved ones, and our community for smoke events.

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Date Posted: August 28th, 2020 @ 8:59 AM
Last Updated: August 28th, 2020 @ 6:18 PM

How to PREPARE for Unhealthy Air/Smoke Events

  • Create a personal, family, or group emergency plan, gather emergency supplies, and be ready to evacuate.
  • Prepare your home.
    • Weatherize homes and buildings in preparation for wildfires by replacing or refurbishing old leaky windows and doors; use caulking to seal the openings.
    • Consider purchasing a non-ozone-producing air purifier (HEPA) to create a cleaner air room in your home, or consider purchasing a MERV 13 or greater filter for your HVAC system to be used when experiencing a heavy smoke event.
    • Consider upgrading to an HVAC system that allows for both heating and cooling. Be sure it includes a mechanism to switch to “recirculate” to prevent smoke from entering the space.
  • Plan to go to a cleaner air location if you are unable to seal your home or if dense smoke occurs during hot weather events and you cannot stay in your home. Heat takes precedent over smoke.

How to STAY SAFE DURING Unhealthy Air/Smoke Events

  • Know your air quality. Smoke levels can change a lot during the day, so wait until air quality is better before you are active outdoors. Check airnow.gov for air quality forecasts and current air quality conditions. On AirNow.gov, you can also sign up to get email notifications, download an air quality app, or check current fire conditions.
  • Go to an Extreme Weather Center. Extreme Weather Centers provide indoor spaces with cleaner air and cooler temperatures. They are open to anyone who is seeking respite from high temperatures or poor air quality, especially our unsheltered neighbors.
  • Reduce your risk of health problems:
    • Have enough medication and food on hand (enough for more than 5 days, if possible).
    • Follow your health care provider’s advice about what to do if you have heart or lung disease.
    • If you have asthma, follow your asthma management plan.
    • If you feel sick, reduce your exposure to smoke and contact your health care provider.
  • Take it easier during smoky times to reduce how much smoke you inhale. If it looks or smells smoky outside, avoid strenuous activities such as mowing the lawn or going for a run.
  • Reduce smoke in your vehicle by closing the windows and vents and running the air conditioner in “recirculate” mode. Slow down when you drive in smoky conditions.
  • Do not rely on dust masks or bandanas for protection from smoke. They do nothing to protect against smoke particles.
  • Do not rely on N-95 respirators for protection from smoke.
    • N-95 respirators are no substitute for being indoors. Not an option? Know this: N-95 respirators may not be helpful for all people and may be dangerous for certain people with lung or heart conditions.
    • Certified N-95s are not available for children. Children should not wear these masks; they do not fit properly and can impede breathing.
    • If you choose to wear an N-95 respirator, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for properly fitting an N-95 respirator.
    • Wearing an ill-fitted respirator can lead to a false sense of security and to over exertion.
    • Taking a respirator on and off can cause fine particulate matter to build up in the respirator which the wearer will breathe when it is put back on the face.
    • Use a new respirator. Old or reused N-95 respirators are not effective.
    • Masks, even when worn properly, can become uncomfortable and hot.
    • If an N-95 makes you feel better, wear it. If you feel worse, don't! N-95s are not meant for everyone.


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