Summit County emergency alert system nets more subscribers than residents, but visitors pose a unique challenge

Summit County Emergency Management Director Brian Bovaird leads a daily phone briefing with community leaders around the county in early April.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

In a county overflowing with transient visitors, Summit County Emergency Management faces a steep hill. Alerting everyone to emergencies requires a wide array of tools.

There’s “absolutely no magic bullet” to emergency alerts, Summit County Director of Emergency Management Brian Bovaird said. The county makes use of several contact methods beyond SC Alerts, from radio broadcasts to individual messages.

The county’s SC Alert warning system had 32,205 contacts signed up as of Thursday according to the Summit County Office of Emergency Management. Bovaird said it’s unclear how many of those are locals, since SC Alert’s parent system, CodeRed, does not track that information. But for reference, Summit County’s population over the age of 18 was almost 27,000 in July, 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the overall population is 30,735.

With peak season visitation, however, the day-to-day population of Summit County can rise into the hundred of thousands. This can prove problematic for an agency striving to notify 100% of people in the county, Bovaird said.

The county requires rental operators to notify individuals about its alert system, and Bovaird said his department coordinates heavily with the local hospitality industry. That said, there isn’t a high expectation for visitors to sign up.

“We know that an overwhelming number of visitors are not going to sign up,” Bovaird said. 

He posed the question of what would someone rather do on vacation: worry about signing up for emergency alerts, or relax? While he wishes more folks signed up, he recognized that that just isn’t the reality.

To make up for that expectation, the county must rely on large scale communication, like IPAWS, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, and a handful of personalized messages that will send to individuals and specific communities.

IPAWS is a federal system capable of sending radio and television broadcasts, as well as Wireless Emergency Alerts. The latter is used to send Amber Alerts to cellphones. Bovaird said the county can utilize IPAWS for matters of public protection. A downside to IPAWS is the county is limited in what information it can send, he said. It must deliver information in less than 360 characters, and there’s always a fear of abusing the system, he said. He doesn’t want to send too many messages and numb the community to emergencies.

In addition, the emergency management team recognizes not everyone can access information the same way. For that, Bovaird said his department works with the Department of Human Services and a community inclusion advisor who can work one-on-one with residents. If a person can’t hear or see, for example, standard alert systems won’t work for them. That’s where individual advisors can work with the Office of Emergency Management, Bovaird said.

“We strive to get down to that individual level,” Bovaird said.

The Office of Emergency Management urges all residents and potential visitors to sign up for SC Alerts. Features within the system can accommodate those who need additional services during times of emergency.

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