The city of Ashland hopes to more than quadruple the number of phone calls its emergency hot line can handle.
As early as next week, the hot line 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 hot line 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 house on the southeast edge of town.
Both times, city officials were not able to update information on the hot line while residents were calling in.
Karns said the new hot line will not have that problem.
"Most importantly, it allows us to update it much, much more easily," he said.
The emergency number is 541-552-2490.
As early as today or Tuesday, the city will be able to stream emergency radio broadcasts on its website 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 9-1-1 system, will take longer.
Karns said he doesn't think Ashland will have a reverse 9-1-1 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 system for the area. The county received a grant to start it up, Karns said.
Ashland will have to contribute about $14,000 to $18,000 each year for its share of the annual upkeep for the reverse 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 system will be able to send out emergency phone calls, text messages and e-mails to people, he said.
Karns cautioned that a reverse 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 system is more useful for prolonged emergency situations, such as the Siskiyou wildfire. It would be less useful for short emergencies, such as 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 houses within 40 minutes of when dispatchers received the first 9-1-1 call reporting the fire.
Two police officers, a fire department employee and an Ashland Fiber Network employee acted quickly to evacuate houses in the Oak Knoll Drive area.
Daily Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.