Emergency managers better prepared for Oregon heat wave


Triple-digit heat coming Friday

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With another triple-digit heatwave in the forecast, Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management said it’s making changes to try and prevent more deaths.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the region from 11 a.m. Thursday through 11 p.m. Saturday with temperatures nearing or surpassing 100 degrees.

When temperatures shattered all-time records in late June, more than 80 people are confirmed to have died from the heat with another 30 cases still under investigation, the Oregon Health Authority said.

“The extreme heat we saw in late June and early July, tragically took more than 80 lives in Oregon and prompted more than 800 heat-related illnesses in the state’s emergency departments,” said Rachael Banks, the Public Health Director for OHA.

The OEM completed a review of their actions during the last heat wave and kicked that review into high gear to come up with new recommendations and better ways to respond ahead of the latest forecast.

State of Oregon After-Action Review of Excessive Heat Event

One of the big parts of the plan heading into the hot weather is to keep 211 operating around the clock. During the last heatwave, the call center closed on a Saturday, which created confusion for those relying on the service to find cooling centers or some other relief. Officials said they weren’t aware 211 wasn’t staffed on the weekend.

PORTLAND, OR – JUNE 27: Kids play in the Salmon Springs Fountain on June 27, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. Record breaking temperatures lingered over the Northwest during a historic heatwave this weekend. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

“We need to make sure 211 service is provided around the clock,” said OEM Director Andrew Phelps.

Phelps said the state will ensure 211 is running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“We tried to call 211 coordinator and they got back to us on Sunday morning, and by Sunday afteroon, they had staff, they brought on staff to the center,” said Fariborz Pakseresht, the Director of the Oregon Department of Human Services. “As we all understand, especially if you aren’t operating over the weekend it takes some time to call people and bring them back to work.”

State officials also said they plan on getting more information on deaths and ER visits out more quickly.

“Heading into that June event, there were messages about potential impacts of extreme heat,” he said, and added talking about potential impacts isn’t good enough.

It’s more important, he said, for people to understand the impacts of the heat right away so that communities can better take action.

“Having access and being able to share actual impacts in almost real time, being able to allow that data to to drive decision makers will allow us to change our posture, provide additional resources if necessary, make sure that our local, city and county partners have that information,” he said.

Other recommendations include waiving fares on public transportation during the heat wave so people can get to cooling centers, or use the buses or trains as a mobile cooling center. And neighbors should check on their friends and neighbors in the days ahead.

Officials in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, plan to open five cooling centers and 15 libraries with extended hours.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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