Tornado warnings, neighborhood evacuations and other emergencies will be sent to local residents’ landline phones, cellphones and emails through a new immediate notification system under development.
The system, sometimes referred to as reverse 911, will send out text messages, automated calls and emails to residents who choose to receive them when emergency dispatchers trigger an alert.
Officials hope to have the system in operation by this fall. The Columbus Board of Works and Safety on Tuesday approved Everbridge, an incident notification systems company, to provide the service.
Residents will not be charged to sign up or receive notification. The service will cost the county and city a combined $20,650 annually.
The city will pay 59 percent, or $12,208 of the cost. The Bartholomew County Commissioners will vote Monday on funding the remaining 41 percent of the cost. The split is based on the percentage of residents who live in the city versus the number who live outside city limits.
Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations 911 Center, said the system can provide a variety of public safety alerts, from weather-related warnings to water main breaks. The system can send out information in up to 13 different languages, which Reuter said was necessary for Columbus’ growing diverse population.
“When we activate the tornado sirens, this will go right out with it,” Reuter said. “It gives us the opportunity to communicate back to the community if there are potential hazards.”
Residents whose information from phone directories is already in the 911 database will be plugged into the system. Reuter said other residents can sign up through a website that will go online in the next few weeks.
Each user can add up to five addresses or phone numbers to their account to receive notifications.
Reuter said that officials hope to have sign-up stations available at public buildings, such as the Columbus Police Department and fire stations or at other locations.
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said the emergency notification system has been a “very high priority” of hers since she took office.
“We have a warning system for tornadoes but not for floods or any other natural or man-made disaster,” Brown said. “If we’d had a system like this in place during the 2008 flood, our residents could have been warned of the flood and responded accordingly.”
Reuter said a committee initiated by Brent Engle, a former city information technologies executive, reviewed four service providers for the notification system.
Everbridge offered the system at the lowest price and provides unlimited paging.
Other companies were asking for between $28,000 and $36,000 annually and charged for each page.
“We think it’s going to be a good thing for the community,” Reuter said.
Benefits of reverse 911
Residents will be able to sign up their phone numbers and email addresses for immediate public safety alerts from emergency dispatchers through a notification system under development. Alerts will include:
Weather-related warnings, including tornadoes and flooding.
Neighborhood or building evacuations.
Water-main breaks and boil advisories.
Emergency road closings.
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