View of Downtown Portland skyline during a bright sunset, viewed from the East side of the Willamette River
City of Portland employees work around the clock to meet the needs of Portlanders every single day. These are their stories.

Teresa Solano: Information and Referral Specialist, 311 Customer Service Program

Teresa Solano sits at a very busy desk with multiple monitors.  Teresa is surrounded by empty cubicles.

“My name is Teresa Solano and I’ve worked with the City of Portland as an Information and Referral Specialist for 16 years. I help community members access the appropriate outlets to fulfill their needs.  

Our division passes constituents to various agencies including clinics, aid providers, and bureaus and offices throughout the City of Portland and Multnomah County. Before COVID-19, our office received an array of calls related to graffiti reports, noise complaints, abandoned auto reports and campsite reports. There is a temporary moratorium on several of these grievances due to concerns with moving people and possibly spreading exposure to COVID-19. 

On Monday, right after the ‘stay at home order’ took effect, countless local business owners called Information & Referral to see if their business would be impacted by the mandate. People were worried about closing shop and laying off employees. We received tons of questions about access to aid – including grants and other government funds to support employees being laid off.

Some community members express concerns with leaving home because of possible citations, and that’s not the case. Portland Police is shifting their focus to educate people on the situation, rather than handing out citations and making arrests.  211 continues to be a good resource for those worried about food and shelter. Community members can also contact us at 503-823-4000 for emergency food box deliveries through the Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division.

My best advice for people is to stay home. If you want to take a walk – take a walk while being obedient of the social distance order. Lastly, remember to take care of yourselves: Drink water, exercise, wash your hands, get sleep. These are all great preventative measures.”

Janet Woodside: Nurse and Emergency Medical Services Program Manager, Portland Fire & Rescue

Janet Woodside standing in front of a fire engine

“I’ve worked for Portland Fire & Rescue in the Medical Services and Training Division for 20 years. I have a master's degree in nursing and I'm a certified occupational health nurse specialist, which means I specialize in infectious diseases and occupational health. I also authored the ‘Guide to Infection Prevention in Emergency Services’ released by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.  

On top of my regular duties, I work at the Emergency Coordination Center as the occupational health specialist. When COVID-19 first arrived in Portland, we had to update a lot of policies and procedures to cover our response for City employees. Working with the ECC, we’ve built a comprehensive program on how to handle COVID that addresses things such as: What's going to happen if a City employee gets a temperature at work? What are we going to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19? How are we going to clean their work area? How are we going to do testing and contact tracing? This is what I’ve studied and trained for, so I find this work both challenging and rewarding. 

If City employees follow the guidelines and procedures that we developed, they're going to minimize their risks. Behavioral health resources are also important. This is a stressful time for a lot of people: working from home, not having a set schedule, worrying about this disease.

In our society, we're not used to wearing masks, but I think it’s important: when you go out you should wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth. We're really a society of go-to-work-at-all-costs, and that should not be true anymore. People should not come to work if they are sick. A strong work ethic is a part of our culture, but we must change the way we do business.

The most difficult thing about this virus is that there is still so much we don’t know about it. I'm learning new things daily. We are all in it together and it will take everyone doing their part both at work and at home to minimize the spread of this disease within our community.”

Lisa Gill: Facility Permit Program, Bureau of Development Services

Lisa started with the City of Portland in 1991, when she worked the front desk for City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury. She joined the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) in 1995 as a code specialist, taking care of noise complaints. In 2018, she was promoted to lead the bureau’s Facility Permit Program (FPP). 

photo of lisa gill smiling

The weekend before Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a State of Emergency, BDS Director Rebecca Esau asked me if there was any way that I could contact our hospitals and ask how we can be of assistance to them in the coming weeks with the pandemic. OHSU, Providence, Adventist, Legacy – they are already doing tons of work with FPP. I worked all day on Saturday, March 14, reaching out via email. Almost every one of the hospitals responded that day, and we were able to get them up and running. That has been the success of the FPP program: the relationship that was already built there. It was easy to transition into “how can we help you” during this pandemic.

I rely on the knowledge, skill and ability of the FPP staff. Every step of the way, they have stepped up and stepped in where necessary to remove the barriers or to be innovative in how we get the information we need to get permits  out the door. For instance, now, with the hospital tent projects, we talked with the Building Official, the Assistant Fire Marshall and our Fire Bureau inspectors embedded in the FPP program and asked them, "What should we be asking our customers on behalf of the Fire Bureau when it comes to using these tents?” They were great and said, “Here's our punch list and by the way, have you talked to Transportation?” Immediately, on that Saturday the 14th, I emailed Director Esau: Who can I contact in PBOT to get information about street closure permits for one of the hospitals? She got back to me within 20 minutes and we were rolling.

This has really changed our workload in that I think we're more open to different kinds of communication. It has really thrown us into the deep end of the pool with technology. We're willing to pick up the phone; to use FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, Zoom; to text to get the information so we can get our customer what they need to keep business going and our community healthy – so that they can get tested and treated should they have the coronavirus.

I think this experience has really helped my staff have ownership of their work product. They are appreciative of the amount of trust we’ve given them and there’s a boost of confidence. I'm really proud of the FPP team continuing to break down silos between work groups. There’s more of a togetherness. Even though we are not in the building together, I think people are really figuring out: how does my piece of work intersect or interconnect with my coworkers’ piece of work?

We have built these layers in government to absolve us of any sort of liability. At the same time, we have unknowingly disenfranchised people, especially communities of color, lower income people that maybe had just a small bit of money to do this small project so they could stay in their house or make it easier for an elderly relative to come live with them.

I think this is going to be a really big eye-opener for the way we do business at BDS and with our interagency partners. People have figured out we can do more with less. We can do more by interacting, talking and digitally communicating with people. I think that it's going to make us step up our game a little bit, especially when it comes to – I can do my job technically, but I've got to be able to communicate. I'm hoping this also makes people realize that it's not just about “me,” it's about how we can work this out together. How can we get the business of the City of Portland done together.

Chief Sara Boone: Portland Fire & Rescue 

Chief Boone

Since the establishment of our fire department in 1883, and Portland’s volunteer fire service in 1857, there has never been a time in history where the fire service has not answered the call of duty. Portland Fire & Rescue has evolved into an all-hazards fire department where today the 21st century firefighter has to be prepared to respond to any type of emergency or crisis. As quoted by a doctor on the front lines in New York, “This is not a generational public health crisis, rather it is a crisis of a magnitude no generation living today has ever seen.”

I think there are so many unsung heroes behind the scenes that are coming together and finding innovative solutions to address the challenges and meet the needs of everyone, especially those that are most vulnerable. This massive effort reminds me of a quote from Barack Obama, who said, “Ordinary people, when working together, can do extraordinary things.”

The mayor has always been clear in his direction from the beginning. This is a public health crisis and our number one priority is to ensure for the health and safety of our workforce and our community. For me, as the Fire Chief, that has always been my number one priority, whether we’re in a crisis or not. I think as leaders, you really have to identify what is your most important asset – and to me, that is your workforce. Because if they're not healthy, if they're not protected, if they're not safe, if they don't have the peace of mind that they and their families will be cared for, then how can I ask them to sacrifice their life? They have to have 100 percent confidence that their equipment works, that the engines and trucks are maintained, that they're adequately supplied and equipped in order to perform at their best.

For us, we never go into a situation alone. It isn't just one person. We always work as a team. For this crisis, I know everybody is all hands on deck throughout the city. The Fire Bureau is one of many public safety bureaus working together to maintain an emergency response system, along with our county transporting agency, AMR. We work closely with our public safety partners – the Portland Police Bureau, Bureau of Emergency Communications and the Bureau of Emergency Management – to coordinate resources and provide mission-critical services to the community. This crisis is of such a magnitude that it requires every bureau in the city to come together and work as one. There is a focused effort by our elected officials to help communities survive not only the public health threat but also the economic fallout. There are new innovative and collaborative partnerships being formed between city government, community leaders and industry. That's where the creativity comes in. That's where the kindness comes in. That's where the equity comes in. That's where you have to understand, it isn't just impacting one group or one population. It's all of us.

There is also an underlying emotional and psychological stress that has taken a toll. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, firefighters, social workers, hospice workers and caretakers are suffering, yet they still do their job because of their courage and compassion. Every time we respond there is the potential to be exposed to the coronavirus. And no matter how many precautions you take, you’re never 100 percent sure that you’re not taking it back to your family. We pledged an oath as firefighters knowing this job could take our lives, but what we didn't know is that by doing our job, we can no longer protect those we love. At the end of a 24-hour shift, when you go home to recover and you just want to let your guard down and be there for your family; during these times, it's not always possible.

For crisis management, I think for me, it’s not just having a good core leadership team that I can trust, but it’s every person within the hierarchy of this organization that I depend on to make good decisions that directly impact the safety of our personnel and maintain the capabilities of our services. PFFA Local 43 is just as dedicated and committed to ensuring the protection of their members, and they too have shaped the decisions I have made in the interest of our employees.

Portland Fire & Rescue also has a civilian workforce that is integrated throughout our operations and without them we would not be able to function. We have an extraordinary workforce and I'm exceptionally proud of them, not only because of how hard they’ve worked throughout this crisis, but I get to see their work ethic, their talent and their determination every single day. I may not say it enough, but I am always grateful they are here.

We didn't start planning and preparing for catastrophic or terrorist events or natural disasters yesterday. For the fire service, we have been planning since the years just after 9/11. That is when the U.S. government moved the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Department of Homeland Security and designated fire, police, 911 dispatch and emergency medical transport services critical to our nation’s infrastructure and security. Since then, federal, state, regional and local jurisdictions have been receiving federal funds through grant applications to enhance our response capabilities. We have learned a lot from past tragedies over the history of our country. If we are to move forward through this crisis, our resiliency must be rooted in the human spirit and selfless sacrifice that is service to others and our communities.

Jesse Allen, Matt Hill and Neil Olson: Portland Parks & Recreation downtown maintenance crew 

Jesse Allen, Matt Hill and Neil Olson Portland Parks & Recreation downtown maintenance crew

Even as downtown office buildings and streets have gone quiet, many people live downtown – and Portland parks still need upkeep. As part of the downtown maintenance crew, Jesse Allen, Matt Hill and Neil Olson help ensure that parks are safe, clean and open for our community.

Like other City of Portland employees, they take their work and their service to the community seriously.

“Our downtown parks are people’s backyards,” says Matt. “Parks are still going, and we are working in the field, keeping things open, and serving the public.”

Neil explains, “We’ve stepped up our work procedures to account for social distancing and other safety protocols. We’re driving one person per truck, cleaning our trucks after each use, and cleaning our workspaces in our shops.  Everyone is stepping up their game in the parks, sanitizing and providing extra bathroom cleanings.”

“As far as the everyday – it really hasn’t changed that much outside of the social interactions,” Jesse chimed in. “The daily work is the same, but I miss the dogs. We all miss the dogs. There are dogs that I give biscuits to every day, and now I can’t.  We wave at the dogs from a distance, but they don’t understand.”

“Folks have personally thanked me,” says Neil, a sentiment echoed by the team. “There’s been an outpouring of gratitude from the public. I’ve been thanked for my service. I’ve never heard that type of language before. People see us out here, emptying trash cans, cleaning the restrooms, making sure the parks are open for them, keeping things running, so they can keep on living some semblance of a healthy lifestyle. That has meant a lot to me.”

Matt sums it up with this: “We all love what we do. We’re proud of what we do and committed to the team, and supporting our community. There have been a lot more thank-yous lately.  Our work and the public's gratitude is being noticed.”

Tiffani Penson: Supplier Diversity Officer, Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services  

Tiffani Penson (right) is pictured with Kellie Courtney (left)
Tiffani Penson (right) is pictured with Kellie Courtney (left). Kellie represents Eat the Rainbow Catering and recently delivered healthy and safely packaged lunch to City staff reporting to the Emergency Coordination Center.

“As the City’s Supplier Diversity Officer, one of my responsibilities is to connect Disadvantaged, Minority, Women, Emerging Small Businesses, and Service-Disabled Veteran-owned businesses to City of Portland contractual opportunities and providing technical assistance and resources to these firms.

Since the State of Emergency began, I’ve been working out of the Emergency Command Center on a plan known as ‘Taking Care of Our People.’

‘Taking Care of Our People’ focuses on taking care of staff who are designated as essential employees during the State of Emergency.  Since employees reporting to the ECC remain on-site during shifts, providing food helps ensure that employees are receiving what they need to be successful, healthy and sustained.  We are currently contracting with Oregon Certified COBID firms and minority-owned, women-owned and local small businesses to provide lunch for staff reporting to the ECC. I don’t want to just support locally owned and diverse business, but I want to make sure we’re also partnering with businesses that we can confirm are precautious with food handling practices. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the service and restaurant industries are being hit extremely hard and need business. We have established plans to deploy food to fire stations and shelters – if there comes a time where food needs to be delivered to them. Reducing risk among our first responders is a priority during a state of emergency.

I would advise local businesses to use this time to evaluate how you are delivering services. Explore your nimbleness and ability to shift your business model during a crisis.

This is a time to BREATHE and plan for what sustainability as a business looks like moving forward – so when we do come out of this, you will be able to hit the ground running. Remember – don’t panic, something good will come out of it. The City of Portland is here for you.”

Christina Cotnam: Laboratory Analytical Specialist, Portland Water Bureau 

Photo of Christina Cotnam

"We went down to reduced staffing in the water quality lab, with just enough people coming in that we got the most important daily tests done. The tests that we’re required to do, we made sure they got done. It’s just a lot of quieter in the lab. It’s kind of eerie how quiet it is in when you’re in the buildings. In the lab, in the day-to-day, we keep pretty good social distancing but it’s more spread out now definitely.

There definitely was a lot of camaraderie and teamwork, and us working out together, collaboratively, how our schedules will work. Seeing who is trained in what work, which tests are essential, that we need to go get done. Seeing which tests we’re still able to get done that aren’t necessary under federal guidelines. We need to do our part for this piece of public health, providing clean water.

You really have to focus on that task at hand, get our important analyses done, and just limit my exposure and time too. The more efficient and focused I am, the less time I have to be potentially exposed and put myself at any risk too. It’s a team of people who are in there doing the microbiology work, the Cryptosporidium work. We’re doing all this to make sure our lab is able to stay accredited. There’s a lot of daily tasks.

I think most everyone in the country has some anxiety right now, and I think one of the biggest anxiety producers is not knowing when this will be over or if this is the new normal going on. There’s so much that we’re uncertain of. We know it’s coming, we just don’t know when. I think a lot of people are finding techniques to help with their anxiety levels."

Tatiana Elejalde
Equity and Language Access Analyst, Office of Equity and Human Rights

“I can hear and understand all the messages coming from local, state, and federal agencies. However, thousands of community

members cannot, and I am dedicated to ensuring that information gets out to the public in the many languages spoken by community members in our increasingly multicultural city.

Tatiana Elejalde smiling

I was called to work at the City of Portland’s Emergency Coordination Center to provide the same type of guidance and recommendations I provide to bureaus regarding language access and assessing institutional language barriers for communities whose primary language is not English. Our responsibilities regarding language access fall under Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am working to ensure that we are employing best practices and creating strategies to reach vulnerable communities that are not reached by vital communications sent out only in English.

I am grateful to be a part of this ECC team of dedicated City professionals. Since my first day, the commitment to embedding equity into ECC operations has been vocalized and is being put into action.

I have been taking care of myself by reaching out to friends and family to check on them and stay connected. I try to stay present and grateful for the time I am getting with my children. I’m going to be real, though; it’s family life and they are kids, so … you know, real life is happening too! I continue to do my daily meditation and gratefulness check-in, which is a daily practice for me.

Regarding lessons learned, I do not feel I am at a point of reflection yet at this moment. Gratefulness is my go-to practice to feel grounded. Work-wise lessons learned so far is that the more we can institutionalize what we are learning through this incident, the more prepared we can strive to be for the next.”

Dan Baker: CityFleet Supervisor 

photo of Dan Baker, City fleet supervisor

“I’ve worked for the City for 20 years. I’m with CityFleet and I’m the supervisor for our satellite shops, which is five shops. 

We are sanitizing every vehicle and even the bicycles and the doorknobs, the fuel islands cause we have the fueling system here. And the fuel nozzles, the handles, doorknobs … you name it, everything is getting sanitized. It’s taking a lot of extra time. It’s quite the…its quite the deal. But you know what? We’re doing what we’re doing to do our part to help knock that thing down.

For all the police and the fire vehicles that come through here, if they transport somebody that has COVID-19 in there, we set up outside vendors to completely sanitize the entire vehicle, inside and out. We’re set up, we’re ready. If it comes down to multiple vehicles at a time, we can do it. We’re on it, we’re ready, we’re cruising on it. “

Katy Wolf: Emergency Coordination Center Manager, Bureau of Emergency Management

Katy Wolf is standing at a desk.  Katy is looking towards the edge of the frame while working.

“As COVID was starting to become a recognized global pandemic, I was at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in the Advanced Academy, which is a course on leadership for emergency managers. After that, I monitored the emerging global pandemic while doing my job as a training and exercise coordinator and Interim Operations Manager.

The most useful information I have heard is from infectious disease and economics experts, physicians and nurses on the front lines, and from COVID patients who have recovered. I have also really appreciated City and County elected leadership who have emphasized the ‘Stay Home’ message, while also working to provide economic assistance to those impacted by the secondary economic disaster.

Working on the Emergency Coordination Center during a crisis is incredibly stressful. Leaders also tend to work longer hours than the rest of their staff. I decided to plan to take every Wednesday off, delegate duties, and work from home only if needed if I felt up to it. I encouraged all of the ECC leaders to do the same. My go-to stress relief is breathing exercises/yoga and TV shows and movies. I cannot go to yoga, barre or mounted archery practice anymore, but I can do yoga videos and resistance band training to keep in shape.

This emergency is far from over, and no doubt I still have a lot to learn. Most emergencies we’ve had in the last few years were over in a day or two. But this one is very different; it’s more like the ‘Big One’ we’ve been preparing for. There will always be more that can be done, and you always feel ‘behind,’ no matter how much you do. Don’t burn yourself out. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

As a longtime Lord of the Rings fan, I’m reminded of Frodo’s conversation with Gandalf.

Frodo: ‘I wish none of this had happened.’

Gandalf: ‘So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.’”

Joanne Johnson: Disability Program Coordinator, City of Portland Office of Community & Civic Life

Portrait of Joanne Johnson standing in the hallway of City Hall

"It’s important to practice anything we want to do in an emergency in regular, everyday life. Like accessibility — if we’re already used to making things accessible, it will be a habit we keep when an emergency comes around.

I’ve been offering a lot of information and support to emphasize the importance of accessible communications in the last couple of days. We’ve had some excellent conversations around the importance of providing CART and American Sign Language interpreters at press conferences and creating and sharing screen reader-accessible social media posts and documents, for instance.

I also want to lift up that I’ve been offering this support in collaboration with amazing disability equity staff from the Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Equity and Human Rights, Portland Bureau of Transportation, and fellow staff from the Office of Community & Civic Life. And staff from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management have been great about making sure this information is shared with the people who really need to see it. (We really do talk to each other!) 

While offering recommendations and tools for accessible, equitable community engagement is part of my regular work, there is an increased sense of urgency around supporting people to get it right the first time. Otherwise, people with disabilities feel forgotten, more isolated, and have access to less information in these most uncertain of times."