Historic multi-day heatwave, pushes Cascades Region volunteers to adapt to yet another disaster like no other

Story by Sarah Cagann/Red Cross Cascades Region

Red Cross Cascades Region volunteer Chuck Albin walks into a cooling center in Talent, Or. where he along with other volunteers provided support alongside Jackson County. Photo submitted by Patty Albin, June 2021.

We saw the forecasts and read the headlines; a dangerous multi-day, triple-digit heatwave was coming to the Cascades Region. Yet it was still somehow unimaginable that the beautiful Pacific Northwest could really reach such record-breaking temperatures. 

As Friday, June 25, 2021 approached, it became clear that those forecasts were about to come true.

Holland and Sharon, Red Cross Cascades Region volunteers, delivering meals to a cooling shelter at the Oregon Convention Center. Photo submitted by Julia Bishop, June 2021.

“These conditions pose a high risk to everyone,” said Rebecca Marshall, Regional Disaster Officer. “Older adults, those with chronic medical conditions, people who work outside, infants, children, and athletes are more at risk during this extreme heat.”

The American Red Cross typically does not provide wide-spread support for cooling centers, which are set up by local counties. However, this situation was unique. The excessiveness and the duration of that heat quickly made this a life safety issue.

A unique situation that required a unique response. 

“This is a very different response, in that we had volunteers in a standby mode several hours away from where we were,” said Bruce Kolkow, a long-time Red Cross volunteer. “Usually, volunteers are sent right to their location as they arrive because the disaster has already affected lots of people, this case we didn’t know where and when people would be affected and for how long.”

Red Cross Cascades Region volunteers known as ‘Strike Team D’ pose for a photo while supporting Multnomah County efforts at the Oregon Convention Center. Photo submitted by Alan Underkofler, June 2021.

Working alongside counties and local governments, the Red Cross Cascades Region began supporting cooling centers and overnight cooling shelters across the region to provide those in need food, water, and an escape from the heat. 

So far, over 100 Red Cross volunteers have worked tirelessly to provide:

  • More than 1,900 snacks and bottles of water
  • Over 300 comfort kits
  • Across 7 counties across the region

“We had one client that was eight months pregnant,” said Donda King, the Site Manager at the Lane County Fairground cooling center.  “She really needed us to be there”. 

Over the past year, Red Cross volunteers have become experts in adjusting to challenging situations and this heatwave was no different. As Bruce said, “Just remember we are flexible, and we adapt.” 

Now that this record-breaking event is over, focus once again turns to wildfires. With hot and dry conditions throughout much of Oregon, Red Cross volunteers are ready to help when the call comes.

If are interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer, learn more at www.redcross.org/volunteer.