Brown: State must join public, others to gird for heat waves
Gov. Kate Brown says that state agencies, working with others, must be prepared to do more as Oregon girds for another heat wave — though it is not forecast to be as severe as the heat dome that enveloped the Northwest at the end of June.
She offered her reaction Wednesday, July 28, after the release of a report that she requested from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management about the aftermath of the heat dome. The report confirmed at least 83 deaths due to the heat wave, which resulted in record high temperatures in Portland (116 on June 28) and elsewhere in the Northwest.
The state medical examiner is still investigating other deaths from a total of 116 reported during the siege, which lasted longer in some parts of Oregon. The highest temperatures in the Portland metro area were during June 26-28.
"This is an unacceptable tragedy," Andrew Phelps, the state emergency management director, told reporters on a conference call. "Many of these deaths, in my mind, were preventable."
Brown was in Klamath Falls to observe suppression efforts of the Bootleg fire, which has consumed more than 400,000 acres in the nation's largest active wildfire.
She said in a statement:
"Because of the impacts of climate change, it's clear that we will face very high temperatures in Oregon again. What we learned from June's extreme heat wave is that we all must do more at every level … to prepare for extreme weather events.
"With triple-digit temperatures expected this weekend, I am directing state agencies to work proactively with local emergency management partners to implement the recommendations in this report immediately."
Among the top four immediate recommendations listed by Phelps:
• Better communication by health and other agencies with the public, including a functioning 211 call center that connects the public with social services. The Multnomah County line, which is run by a nonprofit, was not fully functional during part of the June 26-28 weekend. Fariborz Pakseresht, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services, said he has taken steps to make sure the 211 system, which lawmakers boosted funding for in the current state budget, functions around the clock through the summer and early fall.
• Free access to transit and ride-sharing services, such as fare waivers or vouchers, to enable people to reach cooling centers.
• Reduction of risks posed by extreme heat. Though Phelps described the June siege as an "unprecedented event" — unlike wildfires, winter storms and flooding, all of which Oregon has experienced within this past year — future heat waves "are to be expected."
"We had a lack of understanding of how extreme temperatures, like those we faced in June, can affect someone — and someone at risk," Phelps said. "But heat can kill. And heat has killed."
• Greater awareness by the public and others for their need to prepare for such events. Phelps said it would be beyond the capacity of government agencies and other organizations to try to reach everyone who needs to reach cooling centers — and that families, friends and neighbors have a role to play beyond making phone calls.
Rachael Banks, the state public health director within the Oregon Health Authority, said: "I will continue to say it: No one should suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke because they are alone, do not have air conditioning, cannot get to a cooling center or air-conditioned public places because of mobility issues, or work outside during temperature heights."
Pakseresht said his agency and the health authority are working on a plan to help those who are unable to leave home during an emergency such as a heat wave. "With that population, their needs are better served at home," he said.
Brown spoke to reporters Tuesday about the likelihood of more heat waves after she presided over a ceremony calling attention to Oregon's new requirement for its two biggest utilities to generate carbon-free power by 2040.
"We are being inundated by climate-change events," she said.
"It is incumbent upon each one of us to get ready to be prepared for emergencies. It is incumbent upon us to help our neighbors, family members and vulnerable community members to be safe and be ready."
NOTE: Adds quotes and other information provided by state officials to reporters during July 28 conference call.
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