09/04/09 — Code Red already operating in county

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Code Red already operating in county

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on September 4, 2009 1:46 PM

Things are heating up in the tropics even as the weather in Wayne County begins to cool down, and this fall marks the second hurricane season that local officials will have in place an easy way of warning residents about dangerous weather.

Code Red is a high-volume emergency notification system that can quickly send automated telephone calls to thousands of people to warn them about everything from flooding or fire to a boil water order, with minimal input from emergency workers.

Since the first test run, an announcement about the Health Department's flu clinic that went out last fall, county officials have not had the opportunity to use the system. But that's a good thing, said Delbert Edwards, communications supervisor with the office of emergency services.

"We're excited that we're having it here. We're even more excited that we haven't had to use it yet, but it's comforting to know it's there," Edwards said.

However, the county's $37,500 per year Code Red system has not been sitting idle for the past year. People signed up to receive alerts from the National Weather Service have been getting warnings about flash floods, tornadoes and severe storms on their phones, and the calls have worked perfectly so far.

Everyone in the county with a home phone number is part of the opt-out system unless they have requested to be removed from Code Red, but Edwards could not give an estimate of how many people have signed up for the weather reports. It's part of the system's safety protocols that not even the emergency services personnel can access.

"There's a lot of privacy involved with Code Red in that they make a big deal that they don't sell their information to telemarketers," Edwards said.

Even though the county has not used the system to deliver messages to the public, its usefulness is clear. It's very user-friendly and can be accessed from anywhere Internet is available, even from a smart phone, so an official can even send a warning from his or her home.

"We do have a 24-hour operation here, but we do have to go home and get rest sometime," Edwards said.

Despite the simplicity of Code Red, there are also a lot of safeguards in place to prevent any accidental notifications, he added.

It takes less than five minutes to send a notification and activate the system, which is capable of calling thousands of people within minutes. In the event of a hurricane or other severe event, county officials will have a way of staying in contact with residents even if the power goes out.

The cost of running the system has remained stable from last year, Edwards said, and it's ready to go for hurricane season 2009. The service offers multiple server locations, so even if the worst happens and one server location goes down due to weather conditions, another server could pick up the slack. It's even possible for people to call back and replay messages they may have missed if their phone was turned off.

Everyone in Wayne County with a home phone line is already enrolled in the automated program, and people seeking to register their cell phone with Code Red can sign up by following a link on the county's home page, available at http://www.waynegov.com.

People who do not want to be included on the list can opt out by contacting the office of emergency services.