Multnomah County Plans Response For Next Heat Wave

Multnomah County today released a preliminary report on excessive heat deaths from the June 2021 heat wave.

At least 54 people died from hyperthermia during the historic June 25-28 heat dome, which shattered records as temperatures rose to 108 degrees, then to 112 and finally to 116, with overnight lows so warm that people without air conditioning had little chance to cool off between.

As of July 9, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office had identified 71 deaths in which the suspected cause of death was hyperthermia. Of those so far, 54 have been formally ruled hyperthermia deaths. The Medical Examiner’s Office will be working to finalize the data in the coming weeks as toxicology and additional housing information become available.

A preliminary analysis by Multnomah County’s Public Health Division shows most of those who died were older and living alone, and nearly none had functioning air conditioning. Two people have been identified through an initial review of housing status as experiencing homelessness.

Chair Deborah Kafoury, together with Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, Chief Medicolegal Death Investigator Kimberly DiLeo and Emergency Management Director Chris Voss, released the report Tuesday morning at the Multnomah Building.

Among the findings:

  • Most of those who died were older adults — the youngest was 48, and the oldest 97; the average age was 70.
  • Fifty of the 54 people confirmed to have died from hyperthermia were identified in preliminary investigations as white.
  • The vast majority of deaths occurred in the decedent’s own residence, more than half of which were multifamily dwellings.
  • Of all those who died in their homes, 78 percent lived alone.

Whereas about 80 percent of people in the Portland area have some level of air conditioning in their homes — and about 50 percent have central air — none of those who died had central air, and only eight people had a portable air conditioning unit. Of those eight individuals, at least seven had units that were unplugged or not working properly

Multnomah County Emergency Management is convening other local government, transportation and communication partners to both refine and add short-term and emergency response strategies in advance of any further heat events this year, and to produce a more in-depth after-action report to increase preparedness and resiliency for future events.

“I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of everyone who died. And I want them to know, we are resolved,” Kafoury said. “In this report, and in the even-deeper reviews you will see in the coming months, we will find the lessons of this heat event.”

“Because the climate disruption we all feared would happen someday, is happening now. And we will need to work together — as a County, as a resilient community, as neighbors — to prepare.”

Source: Multnomah County

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