What’s the best way to get emergency messages out in Summit County?
FRISCO – The Summit County Alert system can now text 4,041 subscribers of emergency situations by e-mail or cell phone. It’s the latest of several methods emergency responders use as they pursue even more efficient ways to keep the public informed. A system called Nexalert is under development to allow emergency messages to be sent through area cell phone towers to all phones using them – without the need for subscriptions, county emergency manager Joel Cochran said. “It’s great technology,” he said. “It’s where we need to go.”Time would be a crucial element to scenarious such as a terrorist attack, natural disaster or wildfire, and the influx of tourists during much of the year can make it tough to get in touch with people. In addition, many residents no longer use land-lines in their homes and won’t receive reverse-911 calls. Cochran met with local first-responders and communications professionals Tuesday morning to discuss methods available for alerting people. “If I had my way, I’d have sirens in the Silverthorne area below Dillon Dam,” he said, adding that it could get people moving quickly to higher ground if the dam failed.Kim DiLallo, communications director for the Town of Breckenridge, said there’s sentiment in the town for using sirens to alert people of wildfire. But one of the impediments to sirens could be that out-of-towners don’t know what it means. “If you were from Kansas and you heard a siren, you’d think that a tornado is coming,” Cochran said. He said some sirens also broadcast voice messages to tell people what to do, and in Wyoming the public is educated on how to react to different types of siren noise.
Summit County Alert, at http://www.scalert.org, offers subscribers customized messages regarding location, schools, roads and more. The service is free to the public and has been used the past couple of years to alert people of weather-related road closures and more. Cochran said Eagle County has had the same type of system for four years, but the one in Summit has maintained a higher share of subscribers. More than 10 percent of Summit residents use the service, and 20 to 30 more sign up each month. But it’s not flawless. “It kicks people off,” Cochran said. “The system can only take so much volume.”He said he’s working to fix problems by staggering the message transmissions by a few seconds so that more than 4,000 aren’t all sent at once. The group on Tuesday also discussed the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to connect with the community. “The Los Angeles fire department does a stellar job updating (its social media),” said Tracy LeClair, public information officer with Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “It greatly reduces the call volume.”Others at the meeting said social media can be tough to manage and that approaching them from too many sources could overwhelm people with data. Summit County Rescue Group director Joe Ben Slivka said next-generation 911 could significantly improve emergency response in the coming years. The technology will make it possible to send images of a scene as well as transmit traffic crash information – such as vehicle speed, whether airbags were deployed and deceleration force – to responders similar to what OnStar does with GM vehicles. “The dispatcher doesn’t care, but first responders might, and the trauma surgeon really will want that information,” he said. Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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