Local governments adding emergency alert systems



County and city governments in the Dayton region are spending money on emergency notification systems for residents, but the growing prevalence of wireless-only users is making some citizens responsible for registering to receive these alerts.

County and city officials are emphasizing that in order to receive free emergency alerts via text message, cell phone and email, residents must sign up or risk missing notifications.

“Clearly, we are a more mobile society,” said Nancy Dragani, executive director of Ohio’s Emergency Management Agency. “People rely on their cell phone or other forms of notification, and that’s where these systems come into place.”

The Dayton Daily News surveyed eight counties in the region, finding that five have implemented an emergency notification system within the last 10 years. Preble and Warren counties do not have a system in place. Champaign County did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Of the five counties, the average annual cost is $22,490. Much of that is paid for by grants as well as fees collected from municipalities that also have access to the system.

Greene County is one of the latest to take advantage of the alert technology. In conjunction with 10 jurisdictions and Central State University, the county began using Hyper-Reach in October.

Landlines automatically are uploaded into the system, but citizens must sign up their cell phone number and email address on Hyper-Reach’s website. That link can be accessed on a city’s web page.

The number of people who have signed up isn’t clear, county officials said, but they encourage residents to take a few minutes to register.

“Most people have their cell phones everywhere they go, so it’s really key to get people to register their cell phone,” said Rosanne Anders, the Clark County’s EMA director. “A lot of people don’t have landlines anymore. They just rely on their cell phone. It’s a great tool if people are willing to take the time to register their information.”

As of the second half of 2011, 34 percent of U.S. households had only wireless phones, according to a study released in October by the National Center for Health Statistics.

In Ohio, 28 percent of adults aged 18 and over were living in a wireless-only household from January to December 2010. The following year, that number jumped to 33.4 percent.

“It’s amazing how many ways people get information these days,” Fairborn Fire Chief Mike Riley said. “It’s always changing. You want to get the important information out as quickly and accurate as you can. When systems like these provide email, text, cell phone, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Fairborn resident Amber Wood, who does not own a land line, is in favor of an emergency notification system. She plans to sign up to receive the Hyper-Reach alerts on her cell phone, as well as install a land line in her home in the coming months.

“I like the idea of this, but if something serious would happen where the cell phone towers went down or the Internet went down, it wouldn’t work in those cases,” Wood said. “That’s another argument for a land line. During an emergency, people can get a hold of me and I can get a hold of help.”

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department has had its current system, Everbridge, in place since late 2009. Phone numbers registered with the Yellow Pages, White Pages or in the 911 system are in the county’s database, which is up to 160,000 households.

County residents also can sign up their cell phone and email address to receive notifications, up to five zip codes. The county does not send out weather alerts, deferring to the media and weather services, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Capt. Rob Streck.

“In this day in age, if the technology is there, it’s important that we try to provide that service to people,” Streck said. “We don’t use it for a block party or community picnic. It has to be an emergency of some sort.”

Clark County implemented Hyper-Reach about a year ago, saving the county money and giving it more versatility than what its previous system of eight years, Wide Area Rapid Notification, offered. More than 1,800 people have registered within the past year, Clark County EMA director Lisa D’Allessandris said.

Miami County has utilized Twenty First Century Communications for the past six years, but Jeff Busch, the county’s Communications Center director, said there have not been any mass notifications in the last two years. The main use for the system is for events in isolated areas, he said.

Butler County has a system called the Communicator, which has both an internal and external component to it.

Internally, the system is shared by six agencies in the county to alert “decision-makers” of businesses, churches, schools and the government of pressing matters, said Katharine Piaskowy, Butler County EMA emergency planner. Externally, it sends alerts to landlines, but Piaskowy emphasized that residents should call the county’s emergency hotline for updates.

“We’ve got to be able to reach out to the masses,” said Rick Murray, Warren County EMA operations director. “We can’t stick our head in the sand. People rely on that information. It’s everybody — residents and the public safety side of the business. Everybody needs to be doing something.”

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