City-County send first joint Wireless Emergency Alert on heat

August 13, 2021

The City of Portland and Multnomah County sent a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA)  for severe heat shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 13. This is a message that looks like a special text message, and was delivered to all the mobile phones in Multnomah County and some phones in surrounding counties.   

The message, sent in English and in Spanish:  Severe heat today, tonight, tomorrow. Go to a cool place. Check on others. 

The text aimed at highest and hardest-to-reach individuals

The decision to send the WEA was made jointly by the Multnomah County Chair and the Mayor of Portland, on the recommendation of City-County Unified Command. Factors that influenced this decision included: 

  • A forecasted heat index of 4, which indicates "Very High Risk for entire population due to long duration heat, with little to no relief overnight"
  • A commitment to prevent any heat-related deaths
  • The fact that Metro-area hospitals are currently at capacity and any message to minimize heat illness will have the added effect of preserving emergency department and hospital beds. 

This alert was to save lives. We heard loud and clear after the deadly June heat event that our extensive messaging may not have reached everyone and that isolated people were at particular risk. 

Since then, we have sent two Public Alerts regarding dangerous heat on July 28 and on Wednesday, Aug. 11. But those alerts reached a limited number of landlines and people who signed up for Public Alerts.

The Aug 13 Wireless Emergency Alert was an attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible, with information in multiple languages (Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somali and Spanish).

This was the first time city and County managers jointly used with the Wireless Alert to reach that broader audience, including visitors, travelers and people who don’t have landline phones. The unique sound and vibration is not something we can reset but is part of the national Wireless Emergency Alert.

This alert is regularly used by the National Weather Service for other weather warnings including dust storms, extreme wind, flash floods, hurricanes and typhoons, severe thunderstorms, storm surges on the coast, tornadoes and tsunamis. Local authorities can send and do so commonly for evacuations and Amber Alerts for missing children. 

The city of Portland had also used the alert earlier for an ice storm and civil unrest last year.

As with any emergency response, we’ll be evaluating and working to improve.