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Ashland Chamber launches emergency preparedness tool kit for businesses

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe September 2020 Almeda fire damaged and destroyed 200 Rogue Valley businesses.
Online tool kit offers tips, advice

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce has launched an online tool kit to help businesses, workers and customers be more prepared for emergencies and able to bounce back after disaster.

The COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 wildfires in Jackson County highlighted the need for crisis planning, but people need help prioritizing what actions to take, said Katharine Cato, a chamber staff member and member of the Emergency Preparedness Task Force that put together the tool kit.

Many people lost everything in the fast-moving Almeda fire that swept from Ashland to the southern outskirts of Medford in September 2020. The fire destroyed and damaged 200 businesses and more than 2,500 homes ― leaving more than 4,000 people homeless.

"Some were willing to share what they went through and what they wish they had known," Cato said.

The online tool kit at ashlandchamber.com details the top five preparedness steps ― preparing the essentials, inventorying property, knowing evacuation routes, understanding your insurance and storing important documents offsite or securely online.

“If something went sideways, whether earthquakes, floods or fires, how could I best safely exit and have what I need to be resilient after an emergency?” Cato said.

The tool kit includes a link to an Oregon Office of Emergency Management website that details how to make an emergency business plan covering workers, computers and data, buildings and inventory. There’s also information about packing a go-bag with essentials you’ll need to survive and get back on your feet.

As for inventorying property, businesses need to consider their physical, financial and digital assets, while individuals need to catalog their personal belongings and make backups of key documents. The kit has links to checklists and tips.

“Inventorying your personal property was a huge message we heard. Folks didn’t simply know everything that was in their home,” Cato said.

To evacuate more quickly and safely, the tool kit offers information on Ashland’s 10 evacuation zones with escape routes, plus advice for making an evacuation plan and practicing with employees and family members.

In the insurance segment of the toolkit, learn how to check if your insurance will fully cover your business, home and belongings.

The tool kit provides information on backing up documents, photos and videos on an external hard drive, online or in a safety deposit box.

Cato said residents need to prepare before disaster strikes.

“We heard from folks impacted by the fires that when you’re in crisis, you’re not necessarily thinking clearly. Folks had limited time to evacuate, or they thought they would be able to come back to their business or home,” she said.

Cato said many people remain traumatized by the September 2020 fires. The Ashland Chamber of Commerce canceled its annual Fourth of July fireworks show over a Southern Oregon University field because so many people called with concerns about the fire risk ― especially in a drought year when SOU doesn’t have enough irrigation water to keep its campus green.

Many of the callers told their personal stories of loss, while also sharing tips on how to be more prepared, Cato said.

She said planning in advance for a disaster is a way to regain some control.

“Just take one step,” Cato advised. “What can you do to give yourself more peace of mind?”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.