Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Alert system links dispatch with residents

New software cheaper, more effective


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County residents who wish to be notified of events such as avalanches, power outages, road closures and school closures now have a new resource.

Blaine County Emergency Communications has launched its new community alert system, known as Everbridge. The system works as a "reverse 911," calling subscribers to notify them of fires, avalanches or other emergencies.

"On [the old system], all we really had was the ability to send out emergency messages," said Beth English, E-911 director for the county. "[Now], we have a whole lot more flexibility in what we can send messages out for."

The former community alert system, known as Swiftreach, cost the county $9,000 per year plus 8 cents for each minute of phone time. English said that use of the emergency alert system during the 2009 Christmas power outage cost the county $800, whereas using Everbridge for the same purpose would not incur any additional cost.

Everbridge combines the Swiftreach system and the REACT system, which calls in emergency responders, for $9,000 a year with unlimited minutes.

"Everbridge does both of them, for less than we were paying for the other two," English said.

One major change for county residents is the number of ways they can choose to receive alerts. Subscribers can enter up to six phone numbers and one e-mail address to receive alerts, and rank them in order of preference.

English suggests opting for text alerts, as text messages do not require as strong a signal as a phone call and are more likely to go through if the emergency affects cellular communications.

Subscribers can also choose which notifications they wish to receive, including severe weather alerts, power outages, school or government closures, missing person or Amber Alerts, hazardous materials alerts, road closures and natural disasters such as avalanches or flooding.

"It just gives us a ton of options," English said. "We can actually use this system more effectively than the old one."

Everbridge also allows dispatch to send out alerts based on location. Users can enter a location they would like to receive alerts about, such as a home, office or school, and dispatch can send geo-tagged alerts to only those residents affected. For example, Ketchum residents would not necessarily receive alerts regarding flooding south of Hailey.

English announced the system was live during the County Commission meeting on Monday, and was greeted with enthusiasm.

"It's such an important improvement for our community," County Administrator Derek Voss said.

The polling ability of the system drew the interest of Land Use and Building Services Director Tom Bergin and County Director of Operations Char Nelson. Everbridge can call county residents and ask them to respond to a poll, using the same program it uses to call in emergency responders.

Nelson and Bergin said it would be a useful tool to gauge community feeling on county issues such as the four-day, 10-hour workweek and the effectiveness of the county snowplows.

County residents who wish to subscribe to the system can create a profile on blainecounty911.org.

While she urged subscribers to log in to Everbridge and update their profiles to take advantage of the new alerts, English said all subscribers to the old Swiftreach system are automatically enrolled in Everbridge.

"If we do happen to send out any alerts any time soon, they won't miss the call," she said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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