PORTLAND, Ore. — Several viewers in the Portland metro area contacted KGW on Thursday evening and Friday morning to report that they had recently received one or more odd-looking text messages, sometimes accompanied by cell phone calls from unrecognized numbers.
The messages appeared to pertain to the ongoing heat wave in the Portland area, but the unusual formatting and the lack of a clearly identified sender left some of the recipients suspicious that the messages could be spam or a phishing scam, and they wanted to know if it's safe to click the link in the texts.
Are these text messages legitimate?
Yes, the messages are legitimate.
It's a very good habit to be skeptical about unexpected texts and calls in today's world of phishing and robocalls, but in this case the messages were sent by Multnomah County using a system called Everbridge Alert.
The link in the text messages goes to an alert page that looks like this:
WHAT WE FOUND
Multnomah County is one of several Oregon counties that use Everbridge. Washington County also switched to Everbridge in October because it's compatible with the state-level emergency message system OR-Alert, which rolled out last year.
The Portland region has been enduring a heat wave this week, and county officials told KGW on Thursday that they would be sending out tens of thousands of automated calls and texts to residents in "heat islands" — high-risk areas that tend to get hotter than the rest of the city.
In a press release on Friday, officials said the county had issued more than 425,000 calls and texts to residents in heat islands and other higher-risk places. Nearly 10,000 calls and texts were also sent to residents in mobile home communities earlier in the week.
Portland chief resilience officer Jonna Papaefthimiou said officials initially prioritized people in the most vulnerable communities such as mobile and manufactured homes for the alerts, but they broadened their approach on Thursday because the forecast had changed to predict a longer heat wave.
"We decided to send out all those emergency alerts because as the event became longer, the risk increased for more and more people in the community," she said.
The heat wave has produced a life-threatening string of days with highs in the 90s or in some cases above 100 degrees, and temperatures have remained elevated through the nights. Earlier forecasts predicted the wave would begin to ease up after Thursday, but it's now predicted to continue through Saturday.
Multnomah County and other local governments and agencies have rolled out a host of measures to keep people safe from the heat, including overnight cooling shelters, misting stations and free transportation.
Officials have also urged residents to check in frequently on their friends and family, particularly people who are older, live alone or don't have air conditioning. The county has also been conducting its own direct outreach efforts, both in person and through the mass automated alerts.