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New Talent evac map shows zones, routes

Talent has a new online interactive evacuation zone map at CityofTalent.org.
Maria Rico, left, Sofia Rico and Delia Rico say goodbye to their home in Talent after it was destroyed during the Almeda fire in September 2020. The city of Talent has put out an online evacuation map to help residents in the event of a future catastrophe. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Talent homeowners and businesses have a new tool for determining what emergency evacuation zone they are in and the recommended routes out.

The city has put an interactive map online where viewers can determine their zones and see different ways out of town.

Town officials created the map working with Jackson County Emergency Management. The county received a grant from the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association to pilot test the ZoneHaven commercial system, which creates zone maps and evacuation routes for jurisdictions.

“I think the big point we want to stress to people is that they should know their evacuation routes ahead of time,” said Talent police Chief Jennifer Snook, who is emergency manager for the town.

“With Almeda, we directed people out of town. A lot of people didn’t know the outlying areas. In an event like Almeda, you don’t have a lot of time,” said Snook. “We suggest they look ahead of time or print (the routes) out so they have a map.”

Another big lesson from Almeda was the need for people to sign up for emergency alert systems, said Snook. A scannable code on a checklist at the website can be used to sign up. Knowing what each of the three different evacuation levels means is crucial, and they are explained on the checklist, she added.

No evacuation zone maps existed for Talent when the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire swept through town, destroying homes and businesses and displacing residents.

In the event of an emergency, first responders will use the predetermined zones to notify residents of the most efficient ways to evacuate their neighborhoods. Viewers can enter their address or click on the map to determine their zone by going to CityofTalent.org. The online tool also has an evacuation checklist, which is available for download in English and Spanish.

“Being the emergency manager, I have the responsibility of determining what zones we are evacuating when,” said Snook.

The maps would be used for any emergencies, said Snook. That could include earthquakes, flooding, a hazardous materials release or a critical law enforcement situation. The city has railroad tracks and Highway 99 running through it, with Interstate 5 adjacent, and all of those transportation corridors are possible sources of emergencies.

In May, a meeting was held to fine-tune the fire zones with other agencies. Those include Jackson County, Oregon Department of Transportation, Jackson County Fire District No. 5 and Oregon Department of Forestry.

“There are a few things that are getting revamped. They are not major changes,” said Snook. ZoneHaven uses available information to create the maps, but people who are in the areas with firsthand knowledge saw a need for a few revisions.

Initially, six cities were in the ZoneHaven program, including Talent, Ashland, Central Point, Jacksonville, Medford and Phoenix. Talent, Ashland and Medford have interactive maps online. The others have static maps online that show all zones and recommended evacuation routes.

“Basically, we brought the (Geographical Information Systems) files to them. They input those into their system,” said David Pastizzo, GIS manager for Medford who has been involved in creating zone maps and evacuation routes for Medford and Talent, where he is a city councilor.

ZoneHaven evacuation zones and routes are now being created for the other five cities and the unincorporated areas of Jackson County, said Emergency Manager Holly Powers. Before Almeda, the county and cities did not have evacuation maps, so there is nothing with which to compare current ones, said Powers.

The city of Medford started to create evacuation zones and route maps almost immediately after Almeda.

“Medford had some dedicated resources the smaller cities didn’t have,” he said. He worked with Medford emergency coordinator Aaron Ott and the city’s Public Works Department.

Pastizzo then volunteered his time to work with Snook, and then Talent Community Development Director Zac Moody to create zones and routes for Talent. Talent Public Works also assisted with the effort, said Pastizzo. Those maps went online in spring 2021.

Outreach efforts to Talent citizens will go beyond just the website, said Hector Flores, community engagement coordinator. The city has Facebook and Twitter accounts, which are used regularly to convey information. Social media are all cross-linked to the city website so they can be used as a way to access the new maps. Both English and Spanish sites are available.

Flores will record the evacuation routes on video while driving for YouTube, posting so residents can see where they may have to go and what the areas look like.

The city has a YouTube account as another a way to share information with the community. Videos were created on the Fourth of July fireworks ban, weed abatement and the West Valley View Road project.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.