The thick smoke of last year’s regional wildfires is still heavy on the minds of Ashland citizens as they await a winter yet to come. But how prepared are they should wildfire strike closer to home? Or any other disaster, for that matter?

According to Terri Eubanks, community preparedness coordinator for Ashland Fire & Rescue, Oregon’s infrastructure gets a D-minus in terms of preparedness.

“If a catastrophic event, such as a major earthquake, was to happen … it could take up to two months for responders to get to you,” Eubanks said at a “Map Your Neighborhood” meeting Sunday.

Oregon bridges and roads are likely to collapse and become impassable in a major earthquake, such as the one predicted for the Cascadian subduction zone running from British Columbia to Northern California. With infrastructure decimated, it may indeed take two months or more before help can arrive.

The “Map Your Neighborhood” program is intended to train individuals for emergencies in which responders may not be able to reach them.

Ann and Phil Gagnon, who live on Morton Street, said their neighborhood program began four years ago and residents thought it was time to renew the plan.

“We got about nine new neighbors that moved into the area, so we thought that it made sense to have an update,” Phil Gagnon said.

Mapped neighborhoods should update information annually and keep in contact with Fire & Rescue, Eubanks said.

“Unfortunately, many neighborhoods will do an initial gathering … but they will not follow through with their updates on an annual basis, and if we don’t hear from them in a year, then we don’t consider them a mapped neighborhood anymore,” Eubanks said.

There are currently 30 mapped neighborhoods in Ashland.

During Sunday's meeting, residents established a neighborhood gathering site and care center, accounted for local skills and equipment, noted who had pets or children, was disabled or elderly or alone, and outlined gas shut-off valves at each house and locations of fire hydrants. Signs that read "Help" and "OK" were handed out to be placed in a window after a disaster to aid responders.

The meeting also established a free flow of community information, as many neighbors hadn’t met each other yet.

The “Map Your Neighborhood” program is affiliated through CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), a National Citizen Corps program. Ashland’s CERT, established in 1999, has trained more than 500 volunteers to react to emergency situations when responders aren’t available, and to assist them when they are overwhelmed. The free training teaches individuals through hands-on exercises: preparedness, fire suppression, disaster medical operations, urban search and rescue, disaster psychology and other disaster aid.

The program is open to age 14 and up, although minors must be accompanied by an adult. Six sessions will be offered in April, and all six must be completed to be certified. For more information, visit www.ashlandcert.org.

To register for CERT and to establish a “Map Your Neighborhood” program, contact Eubanks at 541-552-2226 or cert@ashland.or.us.

An emergency broadcast system specific to Ashland can be heard at 1700 AM. Residents can also get emergency news alerts sent to them via text, call or email by signing up at www.jacksoncounty.org/alert.

“Looking at it from the viewpoint of waking up in the middle of the night, with broken glass, and all kinds of things falling around the house, the question immediately comes up, ‘What are you going to do?’” Gagnon said. “This gives us some preparation … and so often when disaster happens, people tend to run out in the street and look at each other because they don’t know what to do, but this has a definite step-by-step program which is going to be helpful if we ever need it.”

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.