Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon declared a state of emergency heading into 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 to deliver water to people who might need it. In some cases, they are going door to door.
Officials are encouraging people to check on their neighbors, especially those who are elderly or living on the streets.
Along with more immediate efforts, emergency planners are discussing longer-term strategies, said Dan Douthit, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Does the area need to require air conditioning in buildings? Does the city need to establish dedicated cooling centers?
The June heat wave, which sent temperatures in Portland to a record high of 116 degrees, would almost certainly not have occurred without global warming, an international team of researchers has said. A major United Nations report this week found that warming will intensify across the planet over the next three decades because nations have delayed curbing fossil-fuel emissions for so long.
The warming particularly threatens residents of low-income neighborhoods. During the last heat wave, Dr. Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University, went to the poorest parts of the city with a calibrated thermometer and got a reading of 121 degrees, five degrees higher than the official high for the day, recorded at the airport.
Now officials have asked Dr. Shandas to perform an official study on heat pockets across the city; a team of volunteer researchers planned to take temperature readings of East Portland, with less shade cover and green spaces, and produce a report on their findings.
“We’re seeing a big shift from managers, municipal agencies that want to get out in front of these things, because they are hearing the fatalities we had during the last heat wave were preventable,” Dr. Shandas said.