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Safety officials tout alert system

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GREENFIELD — Public safety officials are hoping to implement a mass notification system that would alert county residents to emergencies in their area.

Police and fire personnel made a joint presentation that received a nod from the Hancock County Commissioners last week, and the group will now bring the matter before the county council Wednesday in hopes of securing funding.

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

The system would cost about $29,000 per year, a sum public safety officials are hoping to take from the county’s local-option income tax fund.

The system will work for the county in two distinct ways, said Hancock County Emergency Management director Larry Ervin.

First, it 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 second function will be utilized less frequently but is perhaps the most valuable, Ervin 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, Ervin said. County officials don’t receive data from devices in the area; they simply select the area to receive an alert.

“If we say send it to the entire county, it’s going to send it to every cell tower in the county,” he said.

That function would 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, said Greenfield Fire Department Chief James Roberts.

“It gives anybody in the county the ability to know when a tornado’s coming,” Roberts said. “I can tell you, myself, I live a quarter mile from (a tornado) siren, and when the wind’s blowing, I can’t hear the siren in my house.”

Buck Creek Fire Department Chief Dave Sutherlin told the commissioners using a mass notification system would be the most effective way to reach people quickly.

“Even if people don’t sign up to it, that’s OK, because you can link this with social media,” he said, explaining the different ways through which information could be sent.

Ervin said he’s been looking for a reliable reverse-911 system for years, and Everbridge is becoming increasingly popular around the state.

“This is probably by far the most bang for the buck that we’re going to get as public safety officials,” he said.

The commissioners voiced support last week for the system.

“You all know I’m cheap as it comes when it comes to spending money. I think this is a real good value,” Commissioner Brad Armstrong said.


Staff writer Maribeth Vaughn contributed to this report.

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