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Don’t forget your zone

File photo. The city of Medford is divided into 14 evacuation zones.

Are you in MD-3? Your life could depend on knowing it.

Medford has divided the city into 14 emergency zones, but figuring out which zone you’re in during an evacuation isn’t always easy.

“If I’m having trouble understanding this, I am not alone,” said Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine.

During an emergency, such as the rash of fires that started last Sept. 8, which included the devastating Almeda fire, the city might send out an alert that could warn residents in, say, MD-3 to evacuate immediately.

But Stine said many residents might not be sure or even remember what zone they live in.

MD-3 is one of the northernmost zones in Medford and is north of Delta Waters and east of Crater Lake Highway. It’s also the zone that’s north of the zone Stine lives in, so he’d like an alert to know if his neighbors are being evacuated.

The other zones have different numbers, starting with MD-1 around the airport and MD-27 in south Medford around Centennial Golf Club. The city has skipped many numbers so it can add in new zones in the future, if necessary.

Having a code such as MD-3 for a particular zone in Medford isn’t as straightforward as many would like, but right now it’s one of the best ways to keep informed about an emergency.

To locate your zone go to medford.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/lookup/index.html?appid=2fd35c4b17d14ff1bbfb12d620ff907d

Every member of a household with a cellphone or computer should sign up separately for the Nixle alerts. To sign up, text JACKSONEVACS to 888777.

For more information about the alert system, go to jacksoncountyor.org/emergency/News/News-Information/jackson-county-launches-county-wide-evacuation-alert-keyword-1. There’s also an option to get the specific emergency situation related to your location through the Jackson County website.

Remember that each phone needs to be signed up as a separate account to ensure receiving an alert.

A similar keyword will soon be available specifically for Medford residents.

Medford is in the process of updating its alert system and is looking for ways to refine the information to make it more accessible and understandable to residents who might be frantically wondering if they need to escape.

“I’m hoping we can boil it down to make it easier,” Stine said.

Stine said residents in other parts of Medford also need to get some kind of alert so they can stay away from a zone that’s in the midst of an emergency situation.

Another issue is getting accurate information during an emergency.

During the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire, various social media posts indicated incorrectly that Home Depot in Phoenix was burning.

“Sometimes you go to Facebook and get bad information,” Stine said.

Aaron Ott, Medford emergency manager, said it’s often critical to send notifications to only the residents who need to evacuate to avoid clogging streets.

But Ott said he understands the alert system can be confusing for some.

He said some residents want as much information about an emergency as possible, while others only want an alert if it’s pertinent to their situation.

If an alert goes out to the entire city or even the entire county, residents could overwhelm 911 emergency dispatch with calls seeking more information, he said.

While the Nixle alert system is activated at the county level, Ott said he’s hoping that over the next week, Medford will have its own Nixle alerts that can be sent out to different zones in the city.

“We should be getting our own Nixle keyword any day now,” he said.

Other cities such as Ashland have their own emergency alert keyword. To set up Ashland’s, text 97520 to the 888777 number.

During the Almeda fire and other Labor Day fires in the region, many residents complained they didn’t get an alert. Since then emergency officials have been trying to improve the system.

Another issue related to getting the alerts is that some home phone systems use the internet to make calls rather than through land lines. These “VOIP” phones will require signing up separately to receive alerts.

Medford officials use a number of options to get information about emergencies, such as its website, social media and soon with its own Nixle keyword.

The alerts being sent out include warnings about evacuations, strong winds and excessive heat.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.