OEM reviews actions following June heat wave; plans for future extreme weather

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The Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) on Wednesday submitted to the Governor’s Office an After-Action Review of the June 2021 excessive heat event and recommendations to better prepare for future extreme weather events.

Gov. Kate Brown directed OEM to lead the expedited review following the excessive heat that occurred June 25 to June 30, 2021, in which at least 83 Oregonians tragically lost their lives to heat-related illness.

With potential triple-digit temperatures expected again this weekend, OEM is working with local emergency management partners and fellow state agencies to immediately implement recommendations from the report to help ensure Oregonians are prepared for the extreme heat.

“Because of the impacts of climate change, it’s clear that we will face very high temperatures in Oregon again. What we learned from June’s extreme heat wave is that we all must do more at every level––state, county, local, and individually––to prepare for extreme weather events,” Brown said after the report was released. “With triple-digit temperatures expected this weekend, I am directing state agencies to work proactively with local emergency management partners to implement the recommendations in this report immediately.”

The AAR analyzed collaborative actions by federal, state, tribal, local agencies and non-profit organizations to respond to the unprecedented heat event.

Topline results found that partners moved quickly to assess regional needs and align outreach to provide information and resources to their communities on how to stay safe.

“While these efforts undoubtedly saved lives, it is unacceptable that so many were unable to access the available resources,” said OEM Director Andrew Phelps. “Oregon lives were lost to the heat, highlighting gaps where improvements are needed to reduce the impact of future extreme weather events. We’re calling on state, local and regional governments, community organizations and the public to pull together and prepare for the hot summer months ahead — and the inevitable effects of our changing climate.”

The review presents 16 recommendations for immediate and long-term implementation. The state is working swiftly with partners to implement immediate recommendations; four of which have already been put into action. Those include:

  • Increased and earlier health information sharing with local leadership.
  • Ensuring 211 is resourced to provide 24/7 coverage to respond to inquiries and requests for assistance.
  • Ongoing conversations with local partners to waive public transit fares during extreme heat events.
  • Prioritizing the importance of readiness for Oregonians and communicating the importance of checking on neighbors, relatives and coworkers.

Long-term recommendations advise governments to prepare for future climate-driven events by identifying communities in need, enhancing early communication around the risks of extreme weather and implementing infrastructure-level policy changes to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Rachael Banks, Oregon’s Public Health Director, said OHA is looking at innovative approaches to help Oregonians protect themselves during extreme weather conditions like excessive heat, including working on new strategies that will make existing housing healthier and safer.

“Simple steps such as weatherizing a home can help keep cool temperatures in and hot temperatures out. Such improvements can also help people avoid wildfire smoke that has become a common part of our summers.”

The Excessive Heat After-Action Review can be found by following this link.

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