PORTLAND, Ore. — During the heat wave in late June, the Portland metro area saw record-breaking temperatures for three days straight, reaching as high as 116 degrees. The hot temperatures claimed the lives of at least 62 people in Multnomah County.
On Tuesday, Multnomah County released a 25-page report detailing preliminary findings on what the county did to prepare for the heat wave along with the lessons learned. It says after weeks of planning, the county was still caught off guard by the overwhelming need from the public.
"It was a wake up call," Multnomah County chair Deborah Kafoury told reporters during a press conference Tuesday morning.
The report highlights the need for cooling centers and how the county didn't prepare well enough to handle the onslaught of residents seeking relief from the extreme heat.
The report says the county began having meetings in late May regarding the impending heat wave. By June 23, there was a plan in place to open cooling centers, provide outreach services to the homeless, seniors and people with disabilities and provide public information to convey the impact the extreme heat would bring.
The county opened three cooling shelters in Multnomah County: one at the Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland, another at the Arbor Lodge Shelter in North Portland and at the Sunrise Center in Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood.
During a typical heat wave, a total of about 50 people would visit cooling centers in Multnomah County.
According to the report, "Within hours of cooling shelters opening June 25, approximately 60 guests arrived at just one of the three locations. While the County had researched and implemented the most effective evidence based interventions for extreme heat, the magnitude of this event stretched our capabilities."
The county said it used what happened during the June heat wave to better prepare for two subsequent heat waves that hit in July and August.
"We've changed how we use tools like public alerts, unified command in a state of emergency, where we're locating our cooling centers and to whom and where we're conducting outreach," Kafoury said.
Kafoury said county officials are looking to develop ways to increase safety for those who don't have air conditioning.
"We're working closely with our members of the Oregon delegation, our state representatives to look at removing barriers to allow people to have air conditioning units in their apartment buildings."
The report also highlighted the county's outreach efforts to keep people safe. The county sent out nearly a hundred outreach teams and volunteers and handed out over 14,000 cooling towels, 32,000 electrolyte packets, 8,000 containers of sunscreen, 4,500 hygiene kits, 67,000 water bottles and several hundred box fans to community members.
Moving forward, county officials will activate cooling centers at the first sign of extreme heat. They recently activated a public alert system to send out mobile phone alerts and text messages. They will also work with the city of Portland and other cities to make sure that 211info has the resources needed to meet the overwhelming demand for information.