Portland: More cooling centers, communication needed during heat waves
The city of Portland will open more cooling centers in civic buildings staffed with public employees during the next heat wave. It also will improve communications so that more people know they are available and how to reach them.
Those are among a series of preliminary recommendation proposed by a task force convened by Mayor Ted Wheeler and the City Council following the late June heat wave suspected of killing 71 Portlanders. The task force included 12 city bureaus and plans to have a heat emergency operational guideline completed by July 30, and also will update plans on other environmental events.
"The entire city is heartbroken over the tragic and unnecessary loss of life caused by the recent historic heatwave," Wheeler said when announcing the task force on Tuesday, July 20. "While we remember and mourn all of those who died last month, we also are committed to learning all we can to prepare our community for the future and to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again."
According to the announcement, the task force's goal is to draft short- and long-term plans to ensure the city of Portland can be a strong partner with Multnomah County in health-related emergency response efforts during future extreme heat. It is committed to identifying and bringing all available resources to the table in support of the County. The task force is co-chaired by Mike Myers, the city's Community Safety Transition Director, and Jonna Papaefthimiou, interim director of the Bureau of Emergency Management.
"We learned difficult lessons from this heat wave," Papaefthimiou said. "We are working with urgency to increase our capability to respond, in partnership with the community and with Multnomah County."
According to the announcement, during the heat wave, the city relied on several large cooling centers to meet community needs. Although these shelters had capacity and never turned anyone away, they were not easy for everyone to get to. Heat deaths are preventable, and one of the most important actions that can be taken to save lives in a heat wave, may simply be to communicate with residents about risks, and about how they can stay safe.
"We clearly need to improve public communications. People who needed help didn't take action to access the resources available," Wheeler said. "The city already manages alert and warning systems for the county. In the future we are prepared to use all the systems at our disposal in any future major heat emergency. If we activate all systems at once, it will get people's attention."
Wheeler has authorized the use of civic buildings downtown, including the Portland Building, to serve as shelters when needed. Additional actions being taken and explored by Mayor Wheeler, city commissioners, and the task force include:
• Fast-tracking any needed city policies and procedures to improve response efforts.
• Opening Portland Parks & Recreation regional community centers as daytime cooling centers.
• Developing a crisis communications plan that emphasizes "heat is deadly" and "check on others." That plan will incorporate emergency alert systems.
• Authorizing the city to make it a practice to pay employees for shelter work, including overtime pay, as well as asking all city employees to take an online training course so that they will be ready to do this work in future, side by side with County workers and dedicated community volunteers.
• Clearly defining heat index triggers for response actions.
• Declaring an emergency and delegating authority on the hottest days.
• Leading donation drives for fans and air conditioning units.
• Working with community organizations now to plan pop-up cooling spaces and outreach to constituents.
• Working with malls, businesses and schools to provide more cooling spaces.
"I am grateful for our community partners. They share our sadness, and they are also stepping up to provide cooling spaces in businesses and community spaces like churches," Wheeler said. "I ask each Portlander now to make a personal commitment to connect with an older neighbor or other community member who might need their help, and to check back the next time it gets hot."
Noting that the wildfire smoke event in 2020 is a reflection of a risky "new normal" for climate, Wheeler also asked the task force to evaluate the city's preparations for wildfire smoke incidents.
The task force is staffed by city bureau leaders and directors, including:
• Tom Rinehart, director of the Office of Management and Finance
• Jonna Papaefthimiou, director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management
• Chuck Lovell, chief of the Portland Police Bureau
• Sara Boone, chief of Portland Fire and Rescue
• Robert Cozzie, director of the Bureau of Emergency Communications
• Adena Long, director of Portland Parks & Recreation
• Gabe Solmer, director of the Portland Water Bureau
• Chris Warner, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation
• Michael Jordan, director of the Bureau of Environmental Services
• Shannon Callahan, director of the Portland Housing Bureau
• Cathy Bless, director of the Bureau of Human Resources
• Marc Jolin, director of the City-County Joint Office of Homeless Services
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