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Washington County to adapt new emergency notification system

The Everbridge Aware Citizen Alerts system can send messages through various forms of communication

August 31, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

By mid-September, Washington County will begin using an emergency notification system that communicates with thousands of businesses and residents in minutes during an emergency situation, a Washington County official said Tuesday.

The Everbridge Aware Citizen Alerts system will be used to alert residents about severe weather, fires, floods, toxic environmental issues and other emergencies, Emergency Services Director Kevin L. Lewis said.

The messages can be sent to residents via cellphone, land line phone, email, text message, fax, pager and Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, based on the recipient's preference, he said.

The new alert system is one of several emergency preparedness initiatives the county is taking on during September, which is National Preparedness Month, Lewis said.

The county also will air a commercial about emergency preparedness starting around Monday and has preparedness activities and events scheduled throughout the month, he said.

The county's Remembrance in the Park event commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks is scheduled for Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in City Park, he said.

The need for an alert system was underscored in the hour after last Tuesday's earthquake, when the county's 911 center received more than 260 calls, Lewis told the Washington County Board of Commissioners. Many of the callers were simply wondering what happened, a dispatch supervisor has said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham asked if the alert system was equipped to deal with situations in which cellphone networks are overwhelmed by call volumes, as some were following Tuesday's quake.

Lewis said residents will be able to input and prioritize multiple contact methods, and the system will continue attempting different delivery methods until the resident confirms receipt.

Citizens listed in the county's 911 database will be automatically subscribed to alerts by phone, but any citizen may self-register, provide additional contact information, or opt out, according to a news release on the alert system.

If a resident's contact information changes, he or she can access personal profiles on the Internet to update new phone numbers and email addresses, the release said.

At a later date, the county plans to use the system to notify residents about other important information, such as road closures and water utility maintenance, the release said. Eventually, it may be used as an opt-in tool to communicate general, non-emergency community announcements.

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To sign up

To sign up for the service, visit www.washco-md.net/emergencyservices. Citizens without Internet access may call Emergency Planner Sam Anderson at 240-313-4371.

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