PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A partnership between the City of Portland, Multnomah County and the affordable housing organization, Home Forward, aims to better track how hot people’s homes become, and alert residents or their families when conditions become too hot.
A pilot program to monitor and study heat indoors begins this summer with residents at three Home Forward-owned buildings in Northwest, Hollywood and East Portland. The program will use sensors that track heat and humidity and alert the person living in the home, their loved ones or whoever is set up to receive the alerts. The sensor can make a noise, or alert, via a text message or other communication.
“We really don’t want people to try and gut it out in their building and just hang on for a little bit longer because we saw last year what a tragedy that can lead to,” said Jonna Papaefthimiou, the chief resiliency officer for the City of Portland.
The study also incorporates three different buildings, low, mid, and high rises.
The sensors, from Capa Consulting, have SIM cards like cell phones to send data to track how hot the different kinds of buildings are in the different areas of the city. That will help get a true picture of the conditions inside apartment buildings because Papaefthimiou says currently, “we’re guessing based on the temperature outside.”
“We felt like we needed more information to be able to make good decisions to protect residents,” Papaefthimiou said.
Seventy-two people in Multnomah County died from hyperthermia related to the heat dome in the summer of 2020.
Knowing who was at risk, and where, was one problem, and so was getting people the message and supplies they needed quickly enough was another. The emergency manager for Multnomah County’s Department of Human Services, Jenny Carver, says there has been a concerted effort to fix that for this summer.
“One of the main things we’re trying to do is get the message out early and get resources out ahead of time. Last summer, we waited for a forecasted event to start distributing fans and cooling kits. That won’t be the case this summer,” she said.
Multnomah County does not plan to open cooling centers this weekend, based on the current forecast. The County works with the National Weather Service and points to temperatures staying below 100 degrees, a shorter duration of a heat wave, and temperatures cooling down to the 60s at night, as a reason not to at this point. However, they will adjust if there is a drastic change in the forecast.
At this time, Carver says the county has begun to distribute fans and assemble thousands of cooling kits that will include fans, misters and ice trays. The kits will be distributed with the help of county partners who work with lower-income homes, elderly people and those with health conditions that put them at risk in the heat.
There has also been more money dedicated to keeping the 211 operational after hundreds of calls were missed during the 2021 heat dome. It will now be staffed 24 hours a day.
“We’ve been working really closely with our partners at 211Info to make sure that their dispatch systems are shored up,” Carver said.
Papaefthlimiou hopes the data from the pilot program, which will cost around $50,000 for the partnership, will be launched into a more wide-ranging program that can help more people and expand to cities outside of Portland to map the worst effects of the heat.
“We’re starting to think about adaptation and how we can plan for the longer-term and the new reality of climate change in Portland. It feels like this is the kind of work that, in the long-term, helps us have less of those days where we’re just keeping people alive for another day,” she said.