Multnomah County cites heat wave successes and failures
Multnomah County health officials released a new report Wednesday, Aug. 18, on what went right — and what went wrong — during the extreme heat wave at the end of June.
The 25-page report said more people died in Multnomah County from June's record-shattering heat wave than died from heat in the entire state of Oregon in the past 20 years. The current number is 62 but that is expected to increase.
County officials said they knew Portland's summers were getting hotter due to climate change, but a heat wave this extreme took them by surprise.
As a result, the phone line set up to provide relief was overwhelmed with calls. According to the report, the 211 call referral system dropped more than 750 calls and callers reported long wait times and inaccurate information on the automated line.
Moving forward, the county said its strategies include providing space where people can cool off, begin an extensive in-person outreach to seniors, people with disabilities and the homeless and tell citizens about the risks the extreme heat poses for everyone.
"I do know that we reached out to apartment managers and asked them to open spaces, cooling spaces and their facilities," said Alice Bush, division chief of operations for Multnomah County Emergency Management. "And we know of a few of our affordable housing partners that actually did door-to-door."
Officials also noted cooling shelters and centers don't work for everyone who is at risk. They promised to look at "more easily accessible options" and will explore several different methods.
Portland firefighters knocked on doors at mobile home parks in Southeast Portland, and more than 206 teams reached out to check on the homeless population.
But a majority of the county's outreach was done by phone or through alert messages that were sent out in a variety of ways.
For example, 20 neighborhood emergency team volunteers performed nearly 500 welfare checks over the phone, and the Department of County Human Services called more than 3,800 high-risk older adults and people with disabilities.
County officials said they are still working to improve outreach strategies and implement lessons learned from the June heat wave, but they believe they did make changes that helped save lives in August.
The report can be found here.
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