With temperatures forecast to reach the 90s this weekend in an unusually early heat wave, Multnomah County is distributing cooling supplies to people outdoors, sharing resources on how to stay cool, and urging the community members to make a plan now for the rest of the summer.
And in direct response to the 2021 Heat Event recommendations, the Health Department this week launched a new interactive heat vulnerability tool to help government and community partners identify who is most at risk from extreme heat and guide protective actions.
Immediately after the June 2021 heatwave, when temperatures reached 116 degrees, the Multnomah County Health Department produced a Preliminary Review on Excessive Heat Deaths. A key recommendation of the June 2021 Heat Event Preliminary Findings and Action Step report was that the County develop strategies to help identify people at greatest risk, keep people safe in their homes, and develop a collaborative system with other agencies and community-based organizations to focus outreach and response.
Multnomah County’s Environmental Health Services now has that tool.
This week, Environmental Health staff launched the Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) to help the community prioritize and guide extreme heat responses and long-term planning. This index builds on similar tools, as well as current literature on the health impacts of extreme heat and climate change.
“The last two summers have reinforced just how dangerous heat is. Now is a good time to make a plan to stay cool," said Brendon Haggerty, Healthy Homes & Communities Program manager. “I hope the Heat Vulnerability Index is helpful for all the responding agencies for heat-related emergencies.”
The index assesses heat vulnerability at the population-level, using three key factors:
- Sensitivity to heat and illness
- Exposure to extreme heat and the elements of our built environments which regulate temperature
- The capacity to adapt to extreme heat and lessen harm.
The interactive tool displays how heat vulnerability, sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity differ throughout Multnomah County. The tool also includes the 19 indicators used to build the index. By making this tool available to the public, it can be used to help health and service organizations make long-term investments to reduce heat and create short-term response plans during heat events.
“Our Environmental Health team has done some great work with the improved HVI tool and I know it will help us tackle these big challenges in an even more data-driven fashion,” said Valdez Bravo, Health Department interim director. “These are really great tools to have as part of our decision-making and strategies.”
The tool will allow the County, cities, partner agencies and community-based organizations, including culturally specific and culturally responsive organizations, to make coordinated, geographically targeted outreach efforts to help keep people most at risk safe in their homes. It can also help prioritize outreach to houseless individuals.
“Heat can kill people outdoors and in their own homes. Tragically we learned that in the last few years,” said Jessica Guernsey, Public Health Division director. “This tool will help save lives and is an example of core public health work in Multnomah County.”
County also takes steps to protect the community this weekend
Multnomah County through the Joint Office of Homeless Services on Wednesday, May 9, began working with outreach teams, mutual aid groups and community volunteers to bring hot weather gear to people living without shelter across Multnomah County. As of May 11, the County’s outreach supply center has distributed 43,248 bottles of water, 4,400 packets of sunscreen, 3,080 electrolyte packs, 880 refillable bottles, 880 misting bottles and 660 cooling towels, all of which will be distributed to people who need them.
County officials have also cautioned that the combination of hot temperatures and cold, early-season snowmelt will be dangerous for those seeking relief in lakes, rivers and creeks. Be aware of swift currents, cool water temperatures, hidden hazards and uneven bottom surfaces.
Community members can also find relief by checking our Help for When it’s Hot and it’s interactive map to find library branches, pools, community centers and interactive fountains, and make a plan to cool off during hot afternoons. Please note: the Albina, Capitol Hill, Central, Holgate, Midland, and North Portland library branches are currently closed for renovations. Portland’s splash pads and outdoor pools are not yet open for the season. But malls are open and the Lloyd Center is welcoming people to cool off until closing time Saturday and Sunday during normal hours of operation.