Reverse 911 offers emergency warning

May 07, 2006|By DON AINES


When a child is missing, a fire spotted or an accident occurs, people call 911, but by the end of the year, the 911 center in Franklin County will have the technology available to call people to warn them of a threat to their health or safety.

Reverse 911, a Web-based interactive community notification system, is undergoing testing in the county and, once in operation, will enable the center to call homes and businesses when an emergency threatens a specific area, whether it be a a few blocks of a neighborhood or many square miles in radius, said Bryan Stevenson, the county's emergency communications coordinator.

"We tie all the county residence and business telephones into the system," Stevenson said during a recent demonstration. Sprint will update the database of telephone numbers monthly, he said.


That is combined with Geographic Information Services mapping data to produce the information needed to contact everyone within a threatened area in case of a natural disaster, hazardous materials spill or other emergency.

Stevenson demonstrated by bringing up a map on a computer terminal, picking a point on a road as the site of a hypothetical accident and drawing a circular perimeter. The map showed 13 homes within the described area that would be notified in the event that the emergency was real.

"We can draw a circle, expand that out into a rectangle" or any other shape to define the area in which an alert will be delivered, Stevenson said. In the case of a hazardous materials spill in which toxic fumes are a threat, he said the area can be plotted based on wind direction.

A customized message can be recorded and sent to all of the listed telephone numbers within that area to give instructions about what precautions those in the area should take, said Jerry Flasher, the county's director of emergency services. That could include warning people to take shelter within their homes or to evacuate, he said.

Flasher said the system will allow the county to deliver an emergency message across 2,000 telephone lines at one time.

"The data we have in there right now is just for fixed telephones," Flasher said. In the future, cell phone and e-mail alerts could be added.

"This is the biggest challenge we face, keeping up with consumer technology," Flasher said.

Funding for Reverse 911 is from the Department of Homeland Security. Funds eventually will be available to all eight counties in the south-central Pennsylvania region, Stevenson said.

Neighboring Cumberland and Adams counties now are in the testing phase, he said.

In case of an emergency near the boundary line with another county, the system will have the capability to extend the alert beyond Franklin County's border once it is implemented throughout the region, Stevenson said.

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