Oregon agencies do ‘complex’ review of heat wave response

Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon officials are examining the state’s response to the historic heat wave that broiled the region and left over 100 people dead last month.

During a press conference about the review on Monday, Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said the agency is focusing on adapting to climate change.

“It’s important to note these events are not anomalies or outliers, they are indicators about what we can continue to expect,” Phelps said.

Phelps said the after action review will look at the number and location of cooling centers, the speed and frequency with which health data is provided for emergency management, and how they communicate and think about risk.

“We need to move as quickly as we can to gain better understanding and be as proactive as possible in adjusting our response,” Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps said.

“This is why these types of collaborative reviews are so important, to ensure we are are ready not for what happened yesterday, but what will happen tomorrow,” Phelps said.

When asked why OEM didn’t ask Governor Brown to declare a State of Emergency, Phelps said there are a number of factors that go into those decisions and that the conditions weren’t right.

“I don’t know that an emergency declaration is the best way to let folks know how severe an event is, if you overuse a tool like an emergency declaration just to sound an alarm, it becomes white noise in the background,” Phelps said.

Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said OHA is modernizing the public health system with a priority on climate. OHA is also publishing climate and health reports annually.

Oregon Dept. of Human Services Director Fariboz Pakseresht said the agency took proactive steps but acknowledged that there is more work to be done.

“We recognize there are lessons to be learned and we will work with our partners to address those,” Pakseresht said.

The after action review should be completed by the end of the month.

According to the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, at least 116 deaths are believed to be connected to the triple-digits that broiled the state and much of the region. Of those deaths, 72 were recorded in Multnomah County alone. Meanwhile, officials say 78 people died statewide in Washington state, with the majority in King and Pierce counties.

Temperatures at Portland International Airport hit a record 116 degrees on Monday, June 28 during the heat dome.

Both Oregon and Washington state have announced emergency rules to protect farmwokers and others who work outdoors more protection during extreme heat.

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