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Dedication Helped Portland Weather a Storm

Public servants cleared roads and trees

Water Bureau employee searches for the source of a broken water line (Photo courtesy of City of Portland)


More than a week of wind, snow and ice hit the Portland area hard to start 2024. Thousands of people lost power, and many are dealing with stressful, severe property damage.


Tragically, at least a dozen people in our community died – losses that will stay with us forever.


The thaw is here, and the City of Portland wants to thank the thousands of intrepid workers and volunteers who braved difficult winter conditions to provide aid, make repairs and maintain crucial infrastructure. As our community recovers, the work continues.


For more than a week, Portland Bureau of Transportation crews worked around the clock to treat and clear thoroughfares so first responders and public transit could serve the community. Now crews are shifting to the recovery phase: monitoring road closures, assisting with debris cleanup after trees are removed from the roadway, and more. 


If you are biking, watch for sand and gravel on snow routes - a necessity for keeping emergency routes navigable for first responders during winter weather. Gravel cleanup will commence after emergency operations conclude.  


As snow and ice melt, Portlanders will start seeing potholes, which form when water freezes and expands under the pavement, compromising its strength. Once PBOT moves out of the recovery phase, crews will start filling them. Help the bureau get a head start by identifying and reporting potholes at 503-823-1700, pdxroads@portlandoregon.gov, or pdxreporter.org.


Every day, the Portland Water Bureau keeps water flowing from our water sources to your tap, maintaining reservoirs, pumps and 2,000+ miles of water pipes and monitoring water quality. From Jan. 13 to 20, their team repaired 20 main breaks and responded to more than 4,100 calls, dispatching staff to assist with hundreds of emergency water shutoffs.  


Over 600 reports of downed trees and large branches in one week kept Portland Parks & Recreation’s Urban Forestry crews busy. The team worked around the clock to clear major roads and ensure neighborhood access. In the coming weeks, their focus will shift to storm damage in and around Portland’s parks. 


Throughout the winter weather, Environmental Services responded to multiple emergencies, made repairs and minimized the impact of power outages and other disruptions on essential wastewater and storm water services. After a truck struck a power pole and knocked out power to the City’s main wastewater treatment plant for several hours, crews operated backup systems and found solutions to keep core systems intact. They also made emergency repairs to a frozen intake pipe at the City’s largest wastewater pump station, preventing sewage from overflowing into the Willamette River. 


The customer service team at 311 fielded more than 700 calls on the busiest day of the storm, about triple their usual volume – sharing information about shelter locations and transportation, power outages, water and parking enforcement. The most popular topic was falling trees, which generated nearly 1,000 calls the week of Jan. 13-20. 


Thousands of community members received vital information during the storm, thanks to a partnership among the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, Community Organizations Active in Disasters (a national model) and community-based organizations who represent and serve multicultural and multilingual communities. Topics included carbon monoxide poisoning, avoiding frozen pipes, accessing state benefits during a power outage, winter weather shelter locations, calls for volunteers to staff shelters and more. 


Property owners dealing with storm damage turned to the Bureau of Development Services for timely repair information. Road conditions during the week of January 15 prevented in-person building inspections, which are expected to resume this week. 


During the peak of storm, call takers at the Bureau of Emergency Communications answered nearly 300 calls per hour to 911 and the police nonemergency line and more than 4,000 in a single day. The highest number 911 calls during this event was 2,923 on Jan. 13 – a 70 percent increase from the previous year. Call takers connected thousands of community members with resources and dispatched first responders. 


Police officers and public safety support specialists navigated icy roads by patrol car and foot to serve escalating needs – from fallen trees and power lines to welfare checks for vulnerable community members. Welfare check calls were 27 percent higher than the daily average for 2023, with a peak of 135 calls Jan. 13. Some police stations also experienced firsthand storm impacts, such as broken pipes and power outages.  


Throughout the storm, extra staffing and specialized vehicles allowed Portland Fire & Rescue to address quadruple the emergencies of a typical January day – logging the busiest day in the history of Multnomah County emergency medical services. Portland Street Response and Community Health Assess and Treat teams assisted people outdoors and transported them to warming shelters. 


Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteers worked with first responders to serve the community’s biggest needs: clearing storm drains, assessing damage, staffing shelters, maintaining a perimeter around downed power lines, submitting damage reports about shattered windshields, checking on neighbors, dispatching rides to warming centers and supporting the City’s Emergency Operations Center. 


Behind the scenes, CityFleet kept the City moving – literally. Their team worked around the clock during the storm to field a record 300+ work orders for emergency support. Thanks to this dedicated crew, community service continued when it was needed most from snowplows, de-icing machines, vacuum trucks that keep sewer pipes clean and prevent flooding, aerial pickers to remove tree branches, police cars, fire trucks and more. 


Thanks to all the public servants, partners and community heroes who helped Portland weather the storm.

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