Local phone alerts could save lives

Only a fraction of Clark, Champaign residents signed up.

Authorities in Texas credit emergency notification alerts sent via telephone with saving lives after a deadly storm swept through the small community of Granbury on Wednesday night.

The same technology is available in Clark and Champaign counties, but officials here say the system’s biggest flaw is the lack of people who have signed up.

The Clark County Emergency Management Agency launched a campaign three months ago to sign up residents for their own emergency notification system. The system automatically sends messages about tornado warnings through landlines in homes and businesses, but not on cell phones, unless they are registered.

In total, only 3,521 people are signed up county wide to receive the cell phone alert, and with more than 138,000 people living here, Lisa D’Allessandris, Clark County EMA director, said they want and need more people to sign up.

“It’s amazing that we can now reach out to the community much faster and give them those precious minutes they’re going to need to seek shelter,” D’Allessandris said. “But we would like to encourage all residents to sign up on our mass notification system.”

Since 2008, 126 tornadoes have hit Ohio, a majority of them during the first six months of the year.

Fliers sent with water bills in Springfield urged residents to sign up their cell phone numbers to receive tornado warning alerts and other locally-geared messages involving life-threatening health, safety and environmental risks. That gained about 1,500 new participants.

Registration includes alerts for specific events like boil advisories or when a street or neighborhood needs to be evacuated for safety or environmental reasons.

In terms of weather, D’Allessandris said enrollees would only receive alerts when a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service for their community, or when a tornado is spotted by emergency responders in the area and a manual alert is sent out at local dispatcher centers.

“There won’t be unnecessary alerts,” she said.

The system is an effective way to alert residents indoors and outdoors, day or night, when severe weather strikes, D’Allessandris said.

Clark County has 10 air sirens, and the newest was installed this year in New Carlisle on Walsh Drive. It cost $18,000, and half of it was paid for using a federal EMA grant, said Howard Kitko, public service director.

“We’re proud to have them. Council and the citizens are very happy,” Kitko said.

Resident Molly Sanford said she likes the sirens.

“When I hear them go off, they are pretty loud. I always hear them inside,” she said.

But Kitko said the sirens aren’t meant to notify people indoors of impending severe weather. It’s one of the reasons Springfield city officials weren’t against disconnecting their own tornado siren system after years of malfunctions and repairs.

Even with the phone alert system, D’Allessandris said there are no plans to de-activate Clark County’s sirens since they still serve an important function.

“My opinion is that it’s just another tool in the toolbox to help with warning and notification, and the more tools we have the better off we’re going to be prepared,” she said.

In Champaign County, officials deactivated their 38 sirens and are urging people to sign up for the phone alert system. At the beginning of this year, only 3,000 people had opted into the service.

Champaign County residents can sign up on the county’s EMA web site, or call the office at (937) 484-1642.

Clark County residents can also sign up on the county’s EMA web site, or by selecting the “hyper-reach” link at clarkcountyohio.gov. They can also call (937) 521-2179.

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