Cooling centers close after coordinated, enhanced City-County response

August 15, 2021

Cooling centers in Multnomah County closed at 9 a.m. today, as the excessive heat advisory ended and cooler temperatures arrived. Multnomah County and the City of Portland returned to normal operations after five days of activity over the four-day heat wave. Smoke is also expected to diminish beginning today, bringing cleaner air to the area.

Elevated numbers of emergency room visits made clear that heat continues to pose a health threat to community members, with high temperatures driving 24 emergency room visits from Aug. 11 to Aug. 14. That brings the total emergency room visits due to heat-related illness since May 2021 to 246  — far above the five-year average of 100 visits per summer.

On Saturday, the Oregon Medical Examiner also ruled that heat was not a cause of death in a suspected hyperthermia case in Portland on Friday. No deaths are currently associated with this heat wave.  

Multnomah County and City of Portland enhance response

The City-County response reflected several major enhancements since the unprecedented June 2021 heat wave claimed 62 lives. Among them:

  • The Multnomah County Chair and Mayor of Portland each declared a State of Emergency on Aug. 10, allowing for maximum flexibility in staffing and spending. 
  • The County and City jointly led and coordinated their efforts.
  • Residents received two emergency alerts notifying them of dangerous heat conditions.
    • On Wed. Aug. 11, a public alert was sent to all landlines and the cell phones of people who had signed up for warning of the heat.
    • On Friday, Aug. 13, for the first time, Portland and Multnomah County jointly sent a Wireless Emergency Alert to all cell phones in Multnomah County and some in nearby counties warning of the heat. This alert is used nationwide for weather emergencies. The alert was sent because of the heat risk, to stave off emergency room visits with hospitals at capacity due to the current COVID-19 surge.
  • For the first time, a Portland Public Schools building opened as a cooling center. The center was in the gym at the new Kellogg Middle School in southeast Portland — scheduled to open for students this fall and representing an expanded, communitywide effort to offer relief.

  • TriMet provided free rides to cooling sites throughout the duration of the event. 

How the numbers add up 

Although emergency managers are still tallying final numbers, preliminary counts show: 

  • At least 400 people worked on the response, including Multnomah County and City of Portland staff and volunteers.
  • At least 653 people sought overnight relief at the four cooling centers, although that number rose significantly during daytime counts.
  • More than 2,300 meals were served across the four 24-cooling centers.
  • Working with dozens of outreach teams over the five-day response — with more than 50 organizations and mutual aid groups out each day Thursday and Friday during the peak of the event —  the City/County Joint Office of Homeless Services distributed:
    • 55,344 bottles of water.
    • 13,890 KN95 masks
    • 9,100 electrolyte packets
    • 5,490 cooling towels

Multnomah County and the City of Portland began the process of winding down their heat response today. On Monday, Aug. 16, staff will pack up, do inventory and return facilities to normal. Volunteers are needed to help with this work. Visit SignUpGenius to volunteer for a Monday shift.