When the winter weather hits, it can cause havoc across local communities.
When the recent snow and ice event gripped the region, Clackamas County provided essential services both on the front lines and behind the scenes to make the county a safer place for all. From providing overnight shelter to hundreds of guests, to providing water and food to rural communities and cleaning up streets and roads due to downed power lines and trees, Clackamas County worked diligently to keep residents safe.
The reason the county was able to respond deftly across the board was because of the lessons learned by the county from the winter storm in 2021, Clackamas County Administrator Gary Schmidt told commissioners.
"At all levels, Clackamas County has invested in significant resources and time in continuing to improve how the county responds to disasters," said Daniel Nibouar, the county's Disaster Management Program Director. "This winter event demonstrated that investment has paid off. County staff from across departments came together to respond, serve the community, and solve problems as they arose better than ever before."
Below, you’ll read just a glimpse of the work performed by Clackamas County employees.
Disaster Management prioritizes work in the areas of preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. That work was never more evident than during the January 2024 extreme winter weather event. While the department coordinated the county’s response as a whole, one of the highlights surrounded opening a community resource center at the Mt. Hood Lions Club in Welches. Numerous rural water providers had service interruptions due to loss of power, leaking pipes and other damage. Because of that, Disaster Management coordinated with partners (including the State of Oregon) to give supplemental water and food to the Hoodland area, while urging water providers to report damages in the damage assessment process. During this event, approximately 250 households were served.
Public and Government Affairs
The Public and Government Affairs department is responsible for getting information out to the public and working with the media to ensure important and accurate information is being reported.
During this extreme weather event, staff wrote and sent out media releases, performed radio and TV interviews on local media outlets, and coordinated media interviews for appropriate county employees who were also involved in the county’s response to the weather. Staff also kept the county’s website updated routinely to reflect the latest information regarding county closures, overnight weather shelters and more. Staff in this department also put out the latest updates on social media channels, which included information on how to stay safe, where to find shelters, what to do if pipes in your house break and more.
Department of Transportation and Development
Under the Department of Transportation and Development, the Transportation Maintenance division maintains and repairs county roads and bridges, including shoulders, culverts, guardrails, traffic signals, signs and lane markings and more.
Throughout the year, the county’s Transportation Maintenance and Fleet is responsible for 1,400 linear miles of county roads. This team went into 24-hour operations from Jan. 8-14 before moving normal operations on Jan. 15. During this period, crews put on pre-treatment for more than 600 miles of county roads, removed approximately 100 downed trees on county-maintained roads and drains. Crews also monitored drains and worked on snow and ice removal of 6,200 miles of roads (roads were plowed multiple times) and also helped Portland General Electric (PGE) crews with stranded vehicles. Staff also helped the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue efforts to help two stranded cars.
Crews also began cleaning up by using wood chippers, street sweepers, debris trucks and excavators. The cleanup is expected to last a couple of weeks.
The Dog Services team coordinated closely with the county’s Emergency Operations Center with pet supplies for shelter guests at the winter weather warming overflow shelter at Clackamas Community College.
Office staff also moved quickly to remote work during the weather event, which limited the impact of service delivery and meeting the needs of the community. Meanwhile, the inspection staff on the development services team moved to video inspection services where it was feasible. This allowed staff to complete inspections in a timely manner to help the development community.
The Clackamas County Department of Communications, C-COM, provides 9-1-1 emergency and non-emergency call-taking service to the public, and from Jan. 13–19, Clackamas 911 telecommunicators handled 50 percent higher call volumes than is typical for this time of year. All told, telecommunicators in C-COM responded to 7,831 calls to the 911 center from Jan. 13-19. For both their dedication to the mission of our core services and for their own personal safety, some staff lived on-site at CCOM for multiple days on cots inside administrative offices so they could handle the extra call volume.
Health, Housing and Human Services
The Health, Housing and Human Services department assists individuals, families, and communities in many areas of their health.
During this winter weather event, the department opened an overnight warming shelter at the Father’s Heart in Oregon City on Jan. 11. The Father's Heart was at maximum capacity of 49 shelter guests overnight through the storm, and averaged approximately 110 people served during day shelter operations. When it looked as if The Father’s Heart would significantly exceed overnight capacity, the county set up an overflow overnight shelter at the Gregory Forum on the campus of Clackamas Community College. Shelter guest numbers at the latter ranged from 16 to 30 with an average in the mid-20s. Non-congregate (motel) shelter saw approximately 185 guests. However, this is almost certainly an undercount since contracted providers could place people directly in hotels using their funding from the county, and the county is still determining the precise number. The county also dispatched street outreach providers with survival gear and made efforts via street outreach to encourage people to come into shelter. If they refused, which occurred in only a handful of cases, outreach providers ensured they were supplied sufficiently to endure the conditions.
Another shelter provider, Antfarm operated intake hours from 3-5pm throughout the weather event at three locations (Estacada, Sandy and Molalla) and admitted vulnerable people lacking power and people experiencing homelessness into motels in Sandy, Canby, Estacada, and some placements in various hotels in the northwestern portion of the county.
Overall, on the highest utilization days regarding overnight shelters, the county was sheltering approximately 300 people.
Another highlight was the department’s response to Avamere, a facility in Sandy that provides independent living, assisted living, memory care and hospice services. Avamere lost power and residents were without heat, leading Avamere officials to request a possible evacuation of approximately 60 residents to another Avamere facility in Sandy.
Ultimately, an evacuation was not needed as staff in the Public Health division and the Office of Disaster Management worked with PGE to prioritize power being restored to the facility.
While PGE crews worked, two commercial generators and several commercial heaters were delivered to the facility to keep residents warm before power was restored by PGE crews.
Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, which provides public safety services to the people in Clackamas County, responded to hazards, performed welfare checks and crashes during this winter weather event.
As mentioned above, the deputies teamed up with county Transportation Maintenance crews and Clackamas County Search and Rescue (CSAR) volunteers to rescue two friends and a dog in a vehicle that had become stuck in the snow. Thanks to teamwork, this team was able to get the two people and their dog to safety. The success was highlighted by the fact that a longtime volunteer with CSAR said the conditions were similar to those encountered while performing past missions on Mt. Hood.
Under the Finance Department, the Facilities Division staff, which provides maintenance and management services to facilities housing county departments, worked around the clock for the entire storm, keeping county buildings operating and supporting the Clackamas Community College warming shelter with facility needs.