Oregon Governor Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency ahead of this week’s heat wave, and Portland’s emergency management department has mobilized 2,000 volunteers, trained to respond to natural disasters, to help manage cooling centers and misting stations, and provide water to people who it may need. In some cases they go door to door.
Officials encourage people to check on their neighbors, especially those who are older or live on the streets.
In addition to more immediate efforts, emergency planners are discussing longer-term strategies, said Dan Douthit, a spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Does the room need air conditioning in buildings? Should the city set up special cooling centers?
The June heat wave, which sent Portland temperatures to a record high of 116 degrees, almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without global warming, an international team of researchers said. A major United Nations report this week indicated that global warming will increase over the next three decades as countries have delayed cutting fossil fuel emissions for so long.
Warming mainly threatens residents of low-income neighborhoods. During the latest heat wave, Dr. Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University, took a calibrated thermometer to the poorest areas of the city and got a reading of 121 degrees, five degrees higher than the official maximum for the day, recorded at the airport.
Now officials have Dr. Shandas asked to conduct an official investigation into heat bags in the city; a team of volunteer researchers planned to take temperature measurements in East Portland, with less shade and green spaces, and prepare a report on their findings.
“We’re seeing a big shift from managers, municipal agencies that want to prevent these things because they’re hearing that the fatalities during the latest heat wave were preventable,” said Dr. Shandas.