Portland 911 Operators Inundated With Calls for Welfare Checks, Falls and Breathing Issues During Historic Ice Storm

911 calls on Feb. 15 increased by 130% compared with the same day last year.

As Portlanders endured the worst power outage in Oregon history, the city's Bureau of Emergency Communications was flooded with 911 calls, ranging from reports about health issues to downed power lines.

Weekend calls to 911 showed a spike, as WW reported—but nowhere near the increase on Monday, after ice downed trees and power lines across the city.

BOEC tells WW that it received 2,869 calls on Feb. 15, a 130% increase from the same date last year when the agency received 1,245 calls.

"I think things have improved today. The calls aren't as bad," Dan Douthit, a spokesman for BOEC, said on Tuesday. "When we have a situation where we're getting that many calls, our ability to answer them quickly reaches a level that is not ideal."

One of the most common calls that BOEC received during the ice storm was reports of downed power lines: 563 such calls since Feb. 12, the majority of which (423) were made on Monday. In contrast, the bureau received three reports about downed power lines during the same period last year.

Between Feb. 12 and 15, BOEC received 353 calls for welfare checks, 103% more than in 2020; 194 calls labeled as "trauma," marking a 102% increase from last year; 56 calls from people who fell and could not get up, an increase of 107% since last year; and 187 calls with reports of breathing issues—an increase of 160% from the same period in 2020.

As hundreds of thousands lost power across the Willamette Valley, some turned to generators to heat their homes. Since Feb. 12, BOEC received 27 calls with reports of natural gas odors, and 37 calls about water issues.

Douthit said the 911 operators are working in person from a call center, and that some even walked into work. He said it is possible that, at one point over the weekend, staffing dropped below minimum levels.

"We had to do our best to help people come in," Douthit said. "Over the weekend, we did have issues with [staffing] because of the roadways, and part of it was TriMet being completely shut down. Some of our people traveled quite a distance to come in."