Smoke-filled sky in Phoenix, Oregon, after the 2020 Almeda Fire swept through town.

Smoke-filled sky in Phoenix, Oregon, after the 2020 Almeda Fire swept through town.

Erik Neumann / JPR

When wildfires burned through Oregon last fall, many people didn’t receive a local emergency alert or evacuation message, which left them scrambling to evacuate safely. State officials have since approved a new emergency alert system meant to fix that.

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The system, called OR-Alert, would operate statewide, rather than in individual counties, ideally improving communication in the event of a disaster.

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Pam Marsh is a state representative working on OR-Alert. She says the system will improve communication and make people across the state more safe.

“It’ll be the baseline program in counties that have nothing, and for counties that have something, it will be the backstop,” said Marsh. “I think of it as sort of filling in the gaps so that you have a really comprehensive notification system.”

People have to opt-in to most local emergency alert systems currently. But this one would allow notifications to be sent out to devices automatically, including social media, text message and landline calls.

Marsh says technology in the new alert system is functionally the same as what exists on local levels, but it would be implemented more broadly than current notifications.

“It’s one thing to have the availability of technology,” said Marsh. “It’s another thing to have it integrated into our emergency response systems and have it assigned to the right person or persons so that it’s actually used when it needs to be used.”

The system is expected to be available to all counties in the state and should be up and running by this summer.

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