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Jackson County cuts ties with Josephine over emergency alert system

A man checks his phone, another man reads a newspaper, as children run around them on a grass lawn near picnic benches.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
Families at the Jackson County Expo read the news on Sept. 9, 2020, the day after the Almeda Fire destroyed thousands of homes.

Jackson County is cutting ties with neighboring Josephine County over a shared emergency alert system. Officials with the two counties differ on emergency management philosophies.

In a Jackson County Board of Commissioners work session this week, County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county has been taking emergency management more seriously than Josephine County has.

“It’s slowly gotten less and less of a priority [in Josephine County],” he said. “All the way down till now, which is the least amount of priority I’ve seen it get.”

Both counties use an emergency alert system provided by the state called OR-Alert. They’ve been sharing an account on the Everbridge platform because many people live in one county and work in the other. But this change will mean both counties will operate separate alert systems.

According to Jordan, the decision didn’t require a formal vote by commissioners, who decided to sever the agreement.

Last week, the Josephine County commissioners voted unanimously to combine the county’s emergency manager and IT director positions.

Jordan said without a dedicated position in Josephine County, there could be issues with emergency communication, like false alerts sent to Jackson County residents.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts said emergency management has been a much higher priority for them after the 2020 Labor Day fires.

“We have gone so far to protect our citizens through emergency preparedness, and for good reason,” Roberts said. “I’d hate for that to be crippled in any way, shape or form, both in time and money we put into this, and preparedness for any emergency.”

Josephine County commissioners did not respond to requests for comment.

Jackson County Emergency Manager Holly Powers said the split likely won’t happen until after this year’s fire season.

“In order to make sure that the residents of Josephine County who’ve opted into the system, all of that remains the same,” Powers said. “The last thing we want to do is make any undue hardship there.”

Jackson County commissioners also decided this week that they won’t be renewing a joint Integrated Fire Plan Coordinator position that was up for renewal at the end of June. The cost for that position was split 70/30 between Jackson and Josephine Counties, respectively.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.