GREENFIELD — A new mass notification system will go into effect this week with a test message that is expected to have phones ringing in more than 23,000 area homes and businesses.
The system, which cost the county about $20,000, can be utilized by local public safety officials for alerts on everything from inclement weather to road closures, and it’s up to the citizens which information they receive.
The test message, which will go out Thursday afternoon, will provide basic information about the system and how to personalize which alerts can be received.
The county signed an agreement in July with Blackboard Connect, the platform through which public safety officers will address the public in case of emergencies.
According to Blackboard’s website, its clients include government agencies, health-care centers, schools and more.
While the system can be used for a host of alerts, the county won’t burden users with frivolous messages, said Sheriff’s Maj. Brad Burkhart, who is overseeing implementation of the program.
“We don’t want people to get tired of it,” Burkhart said. “We want to use it for necessary situations.”
Jeff VanderWal, deputy director of emergency management, said the system is a step forward for emergency response in the county.
“It’s going to be a great benefit for the county,” he said. “It’s just another tool that emergency management is going to use.”
The system makes use of technology most people already have, VanderWal said.
“Everyone has a smartphone,” he said. “It is a technology-based world; it’s kind of bringing us into that world.”
The system will be utilized most commonly in the case of a National Weather Service tornado warning, which indicates a tornado has touched down or appears imminent based on radar reading.
Public safety officials have long expressed concern about members of the public relying too heavily on the county’s tornado sirens, which have a range of just one mile under perfect conditions – and that’s if a person is standing outside to hear one. The mass notification system would fill that gap.
The system will also allow citizens to opt in to receive their choice of notifications and opt out of others. 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 second function will be utilized less frequently but is perhaps the most valuable, officials said. In the event of a sizable disaster, public safety authorities can pinpoint and send a message to any communication device within a set geographic range of an incident.
Users’ privacy is not compromised. County officials don’t receive data from devices in the area; they simply select the area, called the “geofence,” to receive an alert.
The system can also be used for internal alerts, Burkhart said. For example, the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center, which houses the county’s dispatchers, can send information to certain groups of law enforcement officers.
“This system will allow the 911 center to send out a group page to say, the SWAT team or the scuba team,” he said.
The system is already connected to the National Weather Service and may begin sending those alerts immediately.
TO SIGN UP
To sign up for the county’s mass notification alerts and set your preferences, visit https://HancockCountyAlert.bbcportal.com. Alerts can be received in a variety of ways, including by phone, text or email. Users may opt in or opt out of alerts, which include weather notices, road closures, high water, Amber Alerts and more.