Friday, March 25, 2011

County: Residents not getting message

New emergency-alert system requires signup


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County dispatcher Brady Stokes juggles various forms of emergency communication at the Blaine County Public Safety Facility in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

Blaine County's new system for notifying residents of emergencies is fully in place, but county communications director Beth English says many aren't getting the message.

"If I send out an emergency page, it goes out to over 9,000 people," English said.

But only 4,000 county residents have signed up for the county's new system, which provides more detailed and varied alerts.

The new system, known as Everbridge, acts as a "reverse 911," calling or texting subscribers to notify them of fires, avalanches or other emergencies.

It replaces the Swiftreach community alert system for county residents as well as the REACT system for emergency responders. County residents signed up for Swiftreach were automatically transferred to the Everbridge system earlier this year, but English said many of those residents need to go online and update their accounts.

"If citizens don't register with Everbridge, they will not receive the community alerts such as road closures," she said. "If they are signed up, they'll get a notification as soon as we receive it and be able to plan accordingly."

For example, county residents who had signed up with Swiftreach but not with Everbridge would not have been notified of the countywide avalanche warnings last week.

Avalanche and mudslide warnings are part of the new system, along with warnings about road closures, school and government closures, severe weather, power outage information and Amber Alerts.

Everbridge was launched in December, both as a money-saving and efficiency measure. The system combines two emergency notification systems and saves maintenance and use costs, English said.

She said the system was considered fully implemented as of March 7. She's already sent out three notifications, all of them about the recent avalanche danger.

"I'm extremely satisfied with the system," she said, but admitted it had a few glitches that dispatch is still trying to work out.

"We are still making additions and 'tweaking' certain aspects of it," she said.

Overall, however, she said the system functioned "exactly as expected."

To sign up for Everbridge, visit the county communication site, www.blainecounty911.org.

English suggests opting for text alerts, as text messages are more likely to go through if an emergency affects cellular communications.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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