07/11/08 — County approves Code Red warning system

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County approves Code Red warning system

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 11, 2008 1:46 PM

It doesn't appear that Hurricane Bertha that is now rumbling around in the Atlantic Ocean will pose any threat to North Carolina. But within the next few months when bad weather or manmade disaster threatens, Wayne County residents will have another way to be kept informed.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith has signed a contract with Code Red to implement a reverse 911 system in the county. The system is expected to be operational within 45 to 60 days.

The reverse 911 system works similar to the county school system's Honeywell system that alerts parents to school events.

Code Red would alert residents to threatening weather or manmade disasters like fires or chemical spills.

The weather alerts will come through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

It will cost the county $37,000 annually to offer the service.

One of the most attractive aspects of the system is that Code Red manages the telephone database, Smith said. Earlier systems the county had explored would have required county personnel to manage the database.

Everyone who has a listed telephone will automatically be included, and persons with unpublished numbers or cell phones will have to complete a sign-up process to be included.

Also, people who want the calls to go to a number other than their home phone have to sign up those numbers as well.

Receiving the weather alerts is optional, and residents must sign up to receive them.

"Code Red is something that commissioners have asked about over the last two years," Smith said. "From the standpoint in the county of a major fire or chemical spill or other major disaster, we can have the ability to call mass numbers or limited numbers."

In a town, the calls could be limited to as small as a one-block area. In the county it could be limited based on mileage, he said.

The calls also can be directed by geographic regions such as low-lying areas or even type of dwelling like mobile homes.

"It is pretty precise," Smith said.

The system can be triggered remotely, meaning that an alert won't have to wait on a county employee driving to their office.

Smith said several county employees will be authorized to activate the system.

"We have gotten very positive responses from the fire departments," Smith said. "I am excited about it. I think it will be a great tool. I think it is a great opportunity for preparedness especially for fire departments.

"You know fire departments are great volunteers, but we exhaust those guys. So when there is a chemical spill, instead of them having to go door to door we can go on a map and call out that area. That is a real cost savings of time and effort for these volunteers because they need to be fighting these incidents, not going out knocking on doors."

The county might possibly use the system for callouts for county employees on a limited basis such as when the county has an emergency or weather situation.

There is no plan to use it to announce public meetings.

"We are not there yet, but we might be talking about that years down the road," Smith said.

Smith said the $37,000 price tag is a bargain. Just a few years ago, the system would have cost $100,000.

"The price has really come down, but this has been an effort of the League of Municipalities working with counties and cities in North Carolina to get some kind of bulk buying rate," Smith said.

Smith has spoken with Goldsboro City Manager Joe Huffman and Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown about the system.

Both are interested, but basically said they wanted to let the county get it established and see how it goes, he said.

"Obviously if they have an emergency, we are going to work with them," Smith said. "If they wanted to use additional services then we would talk with them about sharing in cost."

Smith said the company is sending public relations information and general information about the weather side of the system.

He said the county would be advertising the system through articles in the media as well as paid ads.

Now the job is to get the information out to the public and to get people signed up, he said.