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Ashland improving emergency phone hotline

Emergency radio broadcasts to stream on Internet; reverse 911 not available yet
 Posted: 2:00 AM September 11, 2010

The city of Ashland hopes to more than quadruple the number of phone calls its emergency hotline can handle.

As early as next week, the hotline will go from being able to handle 24 calls from residents seeking emergency information, to more than 100 calls, Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns said.

Concerned residents overloaded the city's hotline during the Aug. 24 Oak Knoll fire that destroyed 11 homes. The same problem occurred during the September 2009 Siskiyou wildfire that burned 109 acres and a home on the southeast edge of town.

Both times, city officials were not able to update information on the hotline while residents were calling in.

Karns said the new hotline will not have that problem.

"Most importantly, it allows us to update it much, much more easily," he said.

The emergency hotline number is 541-552-2490.

As early as Monday or Tuesday, the city will be able to stream emergency radio broadcasts on its Web site at www.ashland.or.us. Go to the word "Departments," and then select "Fire" to reach Ashland Fire & Rescue's home page and the broadcasts.

The emergency radio broadcasts at 1700 AM.

"There are a number of people in canyons without good radio reception," Karns said.

Launching a mass emergency notification system in Ashland, also known as a reverse 911 system, will take longer.

Karns said he doesn't think Ashland will have a reverse 911 system in place before the end of the year.

That's because Ashland, Medford and possibly Central Point are teaming with Jackson County to create a reverse 911 system for the area. The county received a grant to start up a system, Karns said.

The city of Ashland will have to contribute about $14,000 to $18,000 each year for its share of the annual upkeep for the reverse 911 system, he said.

Having jurisdictions team up on the system will save money, and a joint system could prove critical in the event of a regional emergency, Karns said.

The reverse 911 system will be able to send out emergency phone calls, text messages and e-mails to people, he said.

Karns cautioned that a reverse 911 system won't replace the need for quick on-the-ground evacuation efforts. For example, a person could be napping, and not be near his or her cell phone.

A reverse 911 system is more useful for prolonged emergency situations, like the Siskiyou wildfire. It would be less useful for short emergencies, like the Oak Knoll fire, Karns said.

The Siskiyou wildfire burned for a few days before it was contained.

The Oak Knoll fire started near Washington Street, jumped Interstate 5 and overran 11 homes within 40 minutes of when dispatchers received the first 911 call reporting the fire. Two police officers, a fire department employee and an Ashland Fiber Network employee acted quickly to evacuate residents in the Oak Knoll Drive area.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.


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