A year after the deadly ‘heat dome’, Portland residents will gather to mourn those who died – and call for better results in the future
The first “heat weekwill begin during the last week of June to commemorate the 72 lives lost last summer due to high temperatures during the Portland Heat Dome event. The event comes during another heat wave, albeit less severe, as temperatures are expected to hit 90 degrees when the event kicks off on Sunday June 26.
The 2021 heat dome was a string of triple-digit temperature days three days in a row, hitting a record high of 116 degrees on June 28, 2021, according to the National Weather Service. The high temperatures were partly caused by a ridge of high pressure moving over the Pacific Northwest. Such high temperatures are anomalous in the Pacific Northwest, where summer days rarely reach triple digits.
In addition to the high temperatures, the heat dome revealed unevenness, with a 25 degree difference between the hottest and coolest places in Portland during the 2021 heat dome, according to information provided by Vivek Shandas, organizer of Heat Week.
Shandas is a professor at the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University, but he is involved in Heat Week as an individual rather than as a professor.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is get agencies, like public agencies, to build their resources so that they can develop the kind of systematic communication, engagement and preparedness actions to reduce deaths from heat episodes in the future,” Shandas says.
Heat Week, comprised of multiple panels and action-based events throughout the week, was launched by CAPA Strategies, a Portland-based climate planning and adaptation analytics firm. According to the Heat Week website, CAPA brought together several agencies and city leaders to plan and oversee Heat Week to “focus on experiencing and adapting to the heat in the area of Portland”.
Along with CAPA, the event is co-sponsored by multiple agencies, including the Portland Office of Emergency Management, Multnomah County Health Department, Washington County Health Department, Families for Climate, and other organizations non-profit. Heat Week will feature both in-person and virtual events.
Events begin with the commemoration of those who died during the 2021 Heat Dome on Sunday, June 26 at the Leach Botanical Garden. On day two, a panel on climate and mental health is scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. The virtual event will include discussions on mental health and healing, justice, and climate. People can register online.
Day three, June 28, will include a Pedalpalooza bike ride hosted by 350PDX and an Action Night picnic. The ride begins at 5 p.m. in Lents Park and ends in Colonel Summers Park.
Day four includes Heat First Aid Training, an online webinar providing education on the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Day 5 of June 30 is a virtual event with a closing committee discussion and reflections from 3-5 p.m.
Portland resident Shandas hosted the June 26 event.
Shandas said the event will include reading the names of people who died during the heat dome and leading a conversation about what planning for warmer summers looks like for different groups in the region.
“The most basic failure is a lack of imagination because no one in Oregon really believed that people would die of heat in Oregon”
While Shandas said the city of Portland knew 10 days in advance that temperatures would be hotter than ever in 2021, the city’s failure to reduce deaths resulted from a lack of communication, planning and preparation.
“The fact that we haven’t been able to reach out to owners of multi-family residential units and somehow give them the resources to check in with their residents on their level of readiness, their understanding of cooling options” , Shandas said when listing specific breakdowns in preparedness efforts. “The fact that we haven’t been to the mobile home parks and we haven’t checked with the property managers there, even the residents. The fact that we didn’t really have a system in place for outreach engagement – especially for the more isolated in our community – really suggests that we had to do a lot more work up front.
Jonna Papaefthimiou, Resilience Manager for the City of Portland, hosted two panels presented throughout Heat Week: one on climate and mental health and another on heat-related health training. Papaefthimiou’s real work on preparing for the heat in Portland, however, came during the 2021 heat dome, and she said she wanted to make some changes going forward.
“The most basic failure is a lack of imagination because nobody in Oregon really believed that people were dying of heat in Oregon,” Papaefthimiou said.
One of the mistakes Papaefthimiou said she felt the city made during the heat dome was not focusing enough on reaching out to Portlanders living in homes.
“Our direct outreach was on the streets to people living outside,” Papaefthimiou said, making sure they had water, hydration salts and getting people to shelters and cooling centers. “And we didn’t send a ton of messages to the people who lived inside. They live in a house. It’s hot, but (the city thought) they weren’t going to die of heat at home. But that’s exactly what happened. »
A Multnomah County report indicates that those who died in the heated dome lived mostly alone in multi-family buildings, in warmer parts of Multnomah County, or people who were homeless or living in unstable housing. The same report notes that less than 10% of those who died had air conditioning.
Most residences in Portland aren’t built with air conditioning, and that’s where county-organized cooling centers come in. But even cooling centers aren’t a perfect solution to reducing deaths. Another area for improvement, Papaefthimiou noted, would be better outreach to those most vulnerable to extreme heat.
“Our message really needs to include, ‘Take care of yourself, check in on others, and check in on them persistently too,’ because there were even people who got checked during the heat wave at one point, said that ‘They were fine, and no one died later the next day,’ Papaefthimiou said.
In the middle of heat week, an event will take place focusing on a broader gap impacting heat in Portland – tree canopy cover. Experts like Shandas have found that tree canopy cover plays an important role in how warm or cool a city is during a heat wave.
The Tuesday Bike Ride and Gathering, organized by Brenna Bell, forest climate manager for 350PDX, takes a route intended to highlight shade gaps throughout the city – gaps that exacerbated the heat wave.
“The main point is to have a lived experience of going from one of the hottest parts of Portland to one of the coolest parts of Portland,” Bell said.
The route starts at Lents Park and ends at Colonel Summers Park – going from a less shaded area to a much more shaded area.
“We’re just going to feel how much the trees affect your ability to withstand the heat,” Bell said. “So the idea of the bike ride is to take that out of the abstract and put it into lived experience.”
To participate in the bike ride, all you need to do is show up with a bike and safety gear, Bell said.
“I would say there’s an element of justice in all of this,” Bell said. “The people hardest hit by climate disasters are those who are already hardest hit by all the injustices in our world. So as we think about how to address climate change and resilience, there’s the twin parts of thinking climate and thinking justice.
“It’s really important to make sure that those most affected and affected are the first to get help.”
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