Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 25, 2012

Russell ponders phone alert system

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

RUSSELL — Keeping citizens safe by helping to alert them earlier in the case of an emergency continues to be a hot topic in Russell.

Over the last few months in the wake of the March 2 tornado that struck West Liberty, city leaders have discussed some type of emergency notification system several times including installing emergency sirens downtown and throughout other parts of the city.

On Monday, city leaders heard from a representative of the Emergency Communications Network, whose services include CodeRED, a web-based mass emergency telephone notification system.

Kurt Steier, a company sales agent, said the CodeRED system is capable of sending high volume telephone and text messages that can be tailored and targeted to specific geographic areas inside the city. His company provides services to some 1,700 cities and counties throughout the country including more than 60 entities in Kentucky.

The system can be used to deliver messages as diverse as boil water advisories and severe weather warnings, he said. The city would also have the ability to use the system internally for its employees.

CodeRED uses 911 center data to reach landline phones and also has a smart phone application, he said. Cell phone numbers can also be loaded into the database but must be provided as there are no cell phone directories.

The system with an emergency weather notification option added in, would cost about $6,000, based on the population of the city. The system has bank of minutes, much like a cellphone plan, that are broken down into six second increments. If the city goes over its minutes in the event of a catastrophic emergency, the cost can often be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Steier.

The telephone-based service did seem to have some support among the city’s first responders.

One advantage of CodeRED over a traditional siren system, said Russell Fire Chief Billy Salvage is that it is significantly cheaper and would require no physical maintenance and upkeep.

Estimates for purchasing three sirens and having them installed range from $40,000 to $60,000, said Salvage, noting that does not include maintenance. The sirens also must be tested daily and have back-up generators installed.

Salvage also noted that the sirens could cause confusion because other local volunteer fire departments still use sirens to alert them of calls. Citizens, he said, might think something was happening when it wasn’t or ignore an emergency warning as a fire call.

Russell Police Chief Tim Wilson told officials he felt Greenup’s E-911 Center would have to support Russell’s decision to use such a system because sending out emergency notifications could fall on them. He also suggested getting other cities and the county to participate.

Clerk Joy Conley suggested the issue be brought before the E-911 board at its next meeting to see if there was any interest among other agencies in sharing in the cost and creating a larger network.

Steier said a larger, shared program could drive down the cost.

Greenup E-911 currently utilizes Nixle, a text message and email service to alert residents of a wide range of issues including road closures, severe weather, and boil water advisories. Nixle is not capable of sending telephone voice messages.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.