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Oregon emergency officials discuss state's response to deadly heat wave

The historic heat wave in late June is responsible for at least 115 confirmed and suspected deaths, officials said Friday.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon emergency officials held a Monday afternoon news conference to discuss the state’s response to the historic heat wave that’s responsible for at least 115 confirmed and suspected deaths.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Andrew Phelps was joined by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Patrick Allen and Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) Director Fariborz Pakseresht.

As of Monday, state officials have reported 115 confirmed and suspected deaths caused by the June heat wave. Out of the 83 confirmed deaths, 31 were women and 52 were men.

Their preliminary cause of death is hyperthermia, which is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure to deal with heat.

The heat wave began on June 25. Portland set new heat records on three consecutive days, peaking at 116 degrees on June 28.

Phelps said the state needs to move as quickly as possible to better our understanding of what happened and be proactive to prepare for future events. That includes assessing the location and accessibility of cooling centers, which saved lives during the heat wave but were not at capacity. The state is also assessing how to communicate the types of risk we are now facing in Oregon to the public. 

"Its important to note that these events are not anomalies or outliers. They’re indicators of what we continue to expect. Its no longer about slowing or stopping the changing climate- its about adapting to climate change," said Phelps.

Allen stressed the need to be more assertive at the state level instead of waiting for communities to ask for help.

"[OHA] needs to maybe take a more aggressive posture than waiting to be asked. We need to be asking questions – offering to provide assistance and really trying to drive more of that from a state standpoint- making sure things are getting done," said Allen.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the state will review its response to the heat wave and make sure Oregonians are better prepared for more extreme heat waves in the future. 

Phelps said the review will be done and recommendations will be submitted to the governor by the end of July.

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