08/20/08 — New Code Red system is up and running

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New Code Red system is up and running

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 20, 2008 1:51 PM

A chorus of cell phone ringers blared from the county commissioners' dais Tuesday morning seconds after Delbert Edwards, county communications supervisor, activated the county's new Code Red emergency telephone alert system.

However, the demonstration of the new system did not go as smoothly as planned. At first, Edwards was unable to get a signal on his cell phone to place the call and a call on a landline returned a busy signal.

A quick redial to a back-up number, the recording of a test message and the test went off without a hitch.

The back-up number, County Manager Lee Smith said, is just one of the many safety and security features that make Code Red "so attractive."

He pointed out that Tropical Storm Fay was cutting across Florida and that someone else probably was calling in to issue an alert.

Even with the minor glitch it took only minutes to send the test alert prompting Smith to note, "We can do in minutes what normally takes hours."

After years of discussion, the new system to alert residents when bad weather or other emergencies threaten went on line Tuesday. The system also can be used for Amber and Silver alerts.

The system, that will cost the county $37,500 annually, requires no effort on the part of anyone with a listed telephone number -- they are automatically included.

However, people with unpublished numbers or cell phones will need to log onto the Code Red Web site to add their contact information. If they do not want the calls, they may add their names and numbers to a "do-not-call list." The information is verified to ensure its accuracy.

A link to the Code Red Web site is on the home page of the county Web site -- www.waynegov.com.

The county will not have to buy any equipment or software, hire additional personnel or manage the database -- it is also done by Code Red.

Anyone interested in receiving weather alerts through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra-tion (NOAA) must sign up, too.

The weather alert is only for people in path of the storm, Edwards said.

The system will be able to quickly make thousands of calls without tying up the county's communication's system, he said.

The system includes a geo-coded map of Wayne County in which telephone numbers are associated with addresses.

"It is relatively simple and easy to use," Edwards said.

For example, he said, "In an evacuation we would now page our fire departments and they would have to go out and knock on doors. So that (test) tells you it would now take a few minutes to do what normally could take hours."

The system has multiple safeguards, Edwards said.

"You cannot accidentally send one of these messages," he said.

Since the system is Web-based, it can be accessed through any computer by the people authorized to use it, he said.

After making the call to commissioners, Edwards used a laptop computer to access the Code Red site to check the status of the call.

"It shows eight calls made," he said. "If we do not have a sufficient success rate we can reinitiate the job and it will call only those it could not reach the first time. We can expand the calling area and again only those folks in the expanded area will get the message and not the ones who got it the first time."

"This a wonderful product especially for us in emergency management," said Mel Powers, county information technology/emergency management coordinator. "What we wanted to make sure is that when we do initiate a call, that everybody takes it seriously. We do not want it to be abused. We don't want this system so that every day you are getting a message. Once people start getting several messages they start getting complacent when they see the Code Red number come up."

Five county employees, including Smith, will be authorized and will have the codes necessary to access the system. It will administered by the county's communications and emergency services.

In an earlier interview, Smith said one option would allow the county to send the message in Spanish as well. The county is working to implement that option because of the county's growing Hispanic population, he said.

The system also will allow the county to use it in-house to contact county employees in emergencies -- such as in case of bad weather the system could be used to let employee know that county offices are closed or will open late.