New 9-1-1 system live, officials say

The city of Ashland announced on Wednesday that it has launched Citizen Alert!, a reverse 9-1-1 system that allows officials to rapidly contact thousands of people about emergencies.

Ashland has joined with the city of Medford and Jackson County on the system, which could be used in cases of fire, floods, gas leaks, armed and dangerous fugitives, hostage situations and other emergencies.

The system already is capable of contacting residents via their land-line home phones that are registered in the regular 9-1-1 database.

Ashland officials are urging residents to use an "opt-in" feature and provide additional contact information, such as cellphone numbers, work numbers and email addresses. Those interested also can receive text messages.

"I strongly encourage all Ashland residents and businesses to opt in and register their contact information," Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns said. "Telephone land lines are already in the system, but many people don't have a land line or aren't home to answer it when an emergency occurs."

Karns explained more about the importance of using the opt-in feature.

"By providing complete contact information including cellphone numbers, work phone numbers and email addresses, we can alert you quickly, and continue to alert you until you confirm you received the message," he said. "Residents can also choose to be notified about events affecting locations besides their home, such as their place of business, children's schools, parents' home, or other locations within Jackson County."

To opt-in and register, visit Registration is free.

"If you register multiple contact paths such as mobile phones, work phones or email, they will be called in the order you specify until you confirm that you got the message," said Jackson County Technology Director Mark Decker.

Launching a reverse 9-1-1 system became more urgent in Ashland following the Oak Knoll fire in August 2010. City workers had to rush door-to-door in the Oak Knoll Drive neighborhood, letting neighbors know that a fast-moving fire was engulfing their homes.

No one was killed by the blaze, which destroyed 11 houses.

Developing the system took longer than city officials originally had hoped, but Ashland saved money by teaming with Medford and the county.

The county signed a five-year contract in March with Everbridge Inc., the company that provides the software to run the system. It will cost $42,685 to install and $38,600 each of the following years. A federal grant will pay for the first two years. During each of the final three years of the contract, Ashland will pay $4,150 and Medford will pay $14,400, annual costs that are based on population.

All information residents provide is kept confidential and will not be sold or used for any purpose other than alert notifications. Residents can opt out or change notification preferences at any time, government officials said.

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