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Council votes to fund mass-notification system

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GREENFIELD — Following a public hearing on the implementation of a mass notification system that would alert county residents to emergencies, the Hancock County Council approved $26,000 to fund the safety system on Wednesday.

The move sends the idea to the Hancock County Commissioners next week. If the commissioners approve, they will determine which company will provide the safety service and which county public safety unit will manage it.

Maj. Brad Burkhart of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and County Commissioner Tom Stevens spoke about the idea during the meeting in hopes of convincing the council to fund the project. The alert system would use text alerts and other means to send warnings to residents.

Some council members initially appeared skeptical about the idea. Council President Bill Bolander, for example, wondered whether alerts would be sent for less-than-severe weather.

Burkhart assured they wouldn’t.

While council members initially discussed using revenue from the county’s local-option income tax to pay for the system, funding for now is set to come out of food-and-beverage tax revenue because that is what was advertised for the public hearing.

Where the funding will come from in the future has yet to be determined.

Burkhart said officials are looking into a couple of companies to provide the emergency notification service.

Everbridge offers a reverse 911 system whose function is to spread information quickly from public safety authorities to citizens in hopes of reducing casualties during a crisis.

While the cost for the service was originally set at $29,000, Burkhart said he was able to reduce the price to $26,000 in hopes it would push the project forward.

“My recommendation is so we don’t prolong this any further and to have the council at least pass the $26,000 so we would have the opportunity to go to them and say, ‘This is what we’ve got,’” Burkhart said.

Safety officials also floated an idea about going with a different company, Blackboard, which offered a notification service for $19,800 per year.

While Burkhart said Blackboard would provide similar service as Everbridge, he recommended hiring Everbridge. The vote on the appropriation essentially endorsed that idea.

“I don’t think we have any problem in providing the appropriations; we just want to make sure everybody is doing their due diligence,” Councilman John Jessup said.

Burkhart said public safety officials have not determined which county safety agency would manage the system.

“It would be broken down into different agencies,” Burkhart said. “We will get everything in order once we figure out which company we will use.”

He said it would not be uncommon to see different agencies putting out different information.

While council member Jim Shelby felt the idea should be shelved and considered for the 2015 budget, Burkhart warned any delay would surely mean a price increase. Shelby wound up casting the lone dissenting vote.

Stevens said the county commissioners expressed a desire to have the system in place as soon as possible.

The alert system will allow citizens to opt in to receive their choice of notifications. Options include severe weather notifications, Amber Alerts, road closings and more. Citizens will also have several choices for how to receive those alerts, including by way of text message, phone call or email. The system can also pinpoint devices in a relatively small geographical area.

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