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County’s emergency messages well-received

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Bartholomew County’s new emergency-notification system sent out tornado-warning messages to 19,280 phones at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, said 7,341 of those residents (38 percent) acknowledged receiving the call by hitting the “1” button twice — once to listen to the message and once more to confirm receipt. That’s about triple the percentage (13.5 percent) who confirmed receipt of a message during a late-December blizzard.

The Emergency Operations Center fielded several calls from residents who were upset that they were awakened in the middle of the night by the message.

Two individuals said they would rather die in bed than get up and answer the phone, and two others said they had heard the warning sirens so they believed answering the phone was unnecessary, Reuter said.

He said far more of the feedback was complimentary, however.

“We’re just trying to make (people) aware of something in the middle of the night that could end their lives,” Reuter said.

The tornado warning in Bartholomew County was canceled at 3:03 a.m., 18 minutes after it was issued.

Although the statistics indicate that a greater number of people are using the new warning system properly, Reuter said he would like to see a far greater number of messages confirmed as received. Reuter said that would happen if more people have text messaging or cellphone calls added to the methods by which they can be notified.

Reuter said 1,942 people have signed up to have the their cellphones receive the warning messages.

The Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety in September approved an interlocal agreement that pays $20,650 to Everbridge, an incident-notification systems company, to provide the service. Columbus is paying 59 percent of the cost, $12,184, with Bartholomew County paying the remainder.

Sean O’Leary, the city’s community information technology executive, told The Republic for a Jan. 16 story that the county’s phone infrastructure allows about 10,000 calls to go out at a time.

Although the current protocol runs the system through the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, the actual system is cloud-based, operating on computer servers in Colorado and the East Coast, O’Leary said. It taps directly into the communications network infrastructure to send alerts, rather than making actual phone calls from the emergency operations center. That also means if communications from the center were disrupted, the alerts still could be sent.

The fastest way to receive messages on the system is by text message to cellphones, then voice calls on cellphones, O’Leary told The Republic.

Residents will receive emergency phone calls around noon Friday as part of a countywide test, Reuter said. One problem during the December tests was that residents didn’t realize they had to hit the number “1” twice on the phone to stop the messages from repeating. On text messages, residents must respond to the text with “Yes” to keep the message from repeating.

Signing up for service

Officials in charge of the city and county emergency notification system are asking people who want to sign up for notices other than through landline telephones to opt-in through the Web or in person this week. Users do not have to be Bartholomew County residents.

Web sites:

Hit the “Citizen Alert Notification Sign Up” icon.


Today and Friday

Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center,

131 S. Cherry St.

Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St.

Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, 543 Second St.

Columbus Police Department, 123 Washington St.

Hope Branch Public Library, 635 Harrison St.


Citizen Alert Help line at 379-1500.

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