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Emergency alerts on cellphones, Internet


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The community’s new emergency notification system will be tested Friday, and officials are offering residents several ways to sign up for the alerts.

The notification system can send messages by phone, text or email, said Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center. The default is to send messages to all the land-line phones in the county, but people can sign up through the city and county websites to receive alerts to cellphones or email.

Because of physical limitations with the land-line infrastructure, the system runs into a logjam on those phones, Reuter said. But cellphones do not have a similar limitation.

“Quite frankly, if they have a cellphone, they should consider signing up,” Reuter said.

Staff at several city and county locations will be available next week to help people who may not have home Internet access sign up for the alternative methods, Reuter said. Staff will be available Monday through Friday at the Bartholomew County Library in Columbus and the Hope branch, the sheriff’s office, the emergency operations center and the Columbus Police Department.

People also can get help signing up by calling 379-1500.

Reuter said people should consider which is the quickest and best way they want to receive emergency information. If people choose their land-line telephone, those numbers are already in the system and no action must be taken. However, those who want cellphone, text message or email alerts need to opt in through the website.

The system is set up to cycle through all of the listed contacts for an individual until it receives a response. For text and email messages, the user must send a reply. For phone calls, the receiver must dial 1 to hear the message and then 1 again to acknowledge receipt. Once receipt is acknowledged by any method, the system will stop trying to make contact, Reuter said.

The system was used Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, initially to alert residents to the incoming blizzard and then to communicate driving restrictions in its wake. The only other use of the system so far was Tuesday, when it was used to notify 63 people of a water main break near Gladstone Avenue and State Street. The system can be called into service by city police, county deputies, city and county firefighters and Columbus Utilities.

“This isn’t going to be social media. This is going to be for emergencies and is going to enhance the knowledge of the citizens,” Reuter said.

He said the system allows dispatchers to draw a polygon, choosing only certain people to notify rather than sending a blast to all county residents.

Around noon Friday, the emergency operations center will send out its first monthly test of the system, Reuter said.

Emergency notification system

The city and county emergency notification system is asking people who want to sign up for notices other than land-line telephones to opt-in through the web or in person during this next week. Users do not have to be Bartholomew County residents.

Locations:

Monday through 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.

Telephone

Citizen Alert Help line at 379-1500.

Websites:

Hit the “Citizen Alert Notification Sign Up” icon.

columbus.in.gov/fire

columbus.in.gov/police

bartholomew.in.gov

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