Keeping Our Community Cool: Lloyd EcoDistrict’s Response to the August 2023 Portland Heat Wave

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By Joshua Baker

This recent period of extreme heat wasn’t just any heat wave; it set records with four consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures in August. When it hit 108 degrees last Monday it became the fourth hottest day ever in Portland – only surpassed by three days of the 2021 Heat Dome which killed 96 Oregonians. While not as hot as that heat dome event – we are well aware of the dangers and deadliness that 100+ degree weather poses for the Portland area. 

Knowing the dangers of the increased frequency and intensity of extreme heat – climate adaptation and emergency preparedness feature heavily on our long-term EcoDistrict Certification Roadmap. That’s why we’ve released and promoted our Lloyd Climate Resilience Report detailing how heat (and other climate risks) will affect our community in the coming years and decades and how we can adapt our built environment to better respond. That’s why we’ve also been holding free DIY Apartment Cooling and Heat First Aid workshops for residents at The Louisa Flowers and other buildings. That’s why you’ve seen on our website and in our communications resources meant to help our community members better prepare and respond to extreme heat.  

However, when an emergency or climate disaster is actively affecting our community – we’re generally not able to be directly involved in the active emergency response. However, for this recent heat wave we were able to step up to help our neighbors by opening a Cooling Room in the Lloyd Center, and here’s how it all came together.

From Resource Fair to Cooling Room

Just before the heatwave hit, we had an event planned in partnership with the Community Services Network – the Lloyd Community Resource Fair. It was set to happen at the Ulta space within the Lloyd Center. We had over 30 tables and dozens and dozens of chairs delivered and set up for this Fair. Little did we know that these resources would turn into something more significant.

Taking Initiative

Anticipating that people would seek refuge from the heat at the mall, we decided to take action. We approached the Lloyd Center management with a proposal – could we use the Ulta space as an official cooling area during the impending heatwave? They saw the urgency of the situation and gave us the green light.

Building Partnerships for Support

But we couldn’t do it alone. The Portland Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM), and Multnomah County all came through, providing information on how best to run a community cooling center, and much-needed resources such as water and snacks. This collaboration was essential in making our Cooling Room effective. More than a dozen volunteers donated more than thirty cumulative hours, supporting our small team to ensure that Cooling Room guests were getting the support they needed. 

Our Community, Our Strength

What made this initiative truly special was the response from our community. When we asked for volunteers, our neighbors stepped up without hesitation. Their dedication showcased the strength of our community spirit, demonstrating that when we come together, we can overcome even the toughest challenges.

Practical Relief for Everyone

Our Cooling Room was a no-frills solution to a pressing problem. We offered cold water bottles, ice otter pops, cooling towels, and snacks – simple essentials to combat heat and hunger. The room, equipped with tables and chairs from our Resource Fair, became a space where people could find respite, recharge their devices, and escape the relentless heat. We got coloring books, crayons, puzzles, books, cards, and games for guests to have something to do while in the space and make it feel more welcoming.

Over three days we ended up having around 376 guests in the Cooling Room. Some just swung by for a few minutes to grab cold water. Many lingered for hours and came back each day for relief. We ended up handing out 598 bottles of water, 520 electrolyte packets, 126 cooling towels, 296 bags of chips, 190 Otter pops, 126 Nutrigrain bars, 120 bags of cookies, 114 granola bars, 20 bags of chex mix to guests and made 61 bowls of instant oatmeal and 36 cups of ramen for guests in need of something slightly more substantial. 

What’s Next?

As the heatwave subsided, on Thursday we closed the Cooling Room’s doors and returned all the tables and chairs, but we left behind a legacy of community resilience and compassion. This initiative, born from a Resource Fair and fueled by our community’s spirit, demonstrated that even in the face of adversity, collective action can make a significant impact.  We’re not sure if we’ll always have the space or access to supplies and resources to respond to future heat waves, cold spells, and other disasters, but our team is grateful we had the ability to provide a meaningful active response to this extreme heat event and will be looking forward to investigating how we might partner with our stakeholders, public agencies, and fellow COAD members to response to future events.