Emergency Alert System never used during fires in Jackson, Josephine Counties

JACKSON CO., Ore. – A local broadcaster, is calling out Jackson County for not using the Emergency Alert System during the several fires in our area over the last week. He says emergency responders and county commissioners failed to notify residents of the deadly Almeda fire as it spread across the valley.

At NBC 5, our station gets the emergency alerts first. Once NBC 5 airs the alert, it’s picked up and aired by every other station, including cable and radio. However, from the moment multiple fires began in our region and in the time since then, not a single alert has been sent.

In Lane and Linn County last week, alerts were sent out nearly three dozen times. Operations manager for Bicoastal Media, Don Hurley spoke with NBC 5 about the Emergency Alert System not being used. “This is crazy you know? To think that they’re too busy to do their damn job. C’mon!”

According to broadcasters, the alerts come from Jackson County Emergency Management. Jackson County’s emergency manager, Stacey Anderson Belt, reports directly to Jackson County commissioners. Last week, Commissioner Rick Dyer told NBC 5 he didn’t know why the Emergency Alert System wasn’t used and said he was waiting on an answer himself.

“I wish the county would take it as seriously as broadcasters do,” said Hurley. He operates stations like ‘KISS FM’ and ‘KOOL 100.3’ and he believes the county failed its residents.

“Anybody that’s listening to radio, or watching television whether its cable, over the air, or satellite would have the ability to extract that  information and go immediately. Instead, we got to wait for police to be able to crawl down the street sometimes 10 – 15 miles an hour to alert citizens,” said Hurley.

The Emergency Alert System, which interrupts broadcast stations on television and over the radio, was never used to issue evacuation notices. Many Jackson County residents have asked us why those alerts weren’t aired.

News stations do not have permission to create and broadcast an alert. They can only come from Jackson County Emergency Management or State Police. “Its a short message, but its immediate and everyone is very familiar with those tones with the tests that we do every week and every month,” said Karl Sargent, the southern Oregon Emergency Alert System coordinator.

Hurley says he doesn’t believe law enforcement and first responders are to blame. He says the emergency manager all the way up to the Jackson County commissioners need to be held responsible for the lack of alerts. “They all have some explaining to do and frankly they owe it to us. We put them in these positions to protect us, and they’re not doing their job,” said Hurley.

NBC 5 asked Rich Tyler with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office about why the emergency alert system wasn’t used. He told us he had “no idea about that.” Later he said he understands the importance of the system and says it’s a legitimate question.

However, NBC 5 still does not have an official answer. We will be monitoring this story and updating when new information is available.

Sheriff Nathan Sickler responded to NBC 5’s report for Jackson County. Below is his full statement.

“During the emergency, the County extensively used Everbridge, an emergency notification platform. In addition, our deputies were also totally engaged using loudspeakers as well as making door-to-door notifications to facilitate evacuations. We understand there are questions about the emergency broadcast systems use during Tuesday’s major fire events. There is a time for a debrief but that is not during the management of two active major events, one that is still actively burning.In every major crisis or disaster there is a time to evaluate what was and what wasn’t done. Again, this is not that time and we need to focus on our community, the great work being done, and how we can support those who suffered loss.”
NBC 5 reached out to Josephine County as well. Its Emergency Alerts are shared to local media. Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan confirmed the county didn’t send any Emergency Alerts.
She says the county chose to use it’s Everbridge system because it targets specific areas. She said a low percentage of the county’s population was threatened by the Slater fire.


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