A new system allows Columbia County officials to more effectively notify residents of emergencies.
The public notification system went into operation Friday. The First Call Emergency Notification System replaces an older system used by the county for more than a decade. The old system sent a recorded message only to land lines in a specified area.
The systems are used to notify residents of emergencies such as chemical spills, severe weather and missing persons, as well as less-severe situations such as water outages and road closures. The voice or text messages can be targeted to residents in areas affected by the event.
With the popularity of cell phones and the decline of traditional land lines, county Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker said the old system didn’t reach as many residents as she’d like, leaving many residents not notified.
“That was a huge issue with us,” Tucker said.
The new system allows residents to register their cell phones, SMS text phones, VoIP phones and/or e-mail addresses to receive notifications affecting their residence, even when they aren’t home. The notifications are tied to a resident’s home address, not their current location.
“This way, you are going to know who, what, when, where and why,” Tucker said. “And you’re going to know it by phone call on your e-mail and a text, if you sign up for all those.”
All land lines are already included in the system. Residents can register their devices and e-mail address online. They also have the option to receive severe weather alerts.
Tucker said she doesn’t recommend relying on the severe weather notifications instead of having a NOAA severe weather alert radio.
“I think that everybody should have multiple ways to receive notification that way if you don’t get it by one way, you get it by another,” Tucker said. “Multiple layers of notification. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket with notification.”
The new system is more user-friendly and offers officials more options.
The new system costs less – $25,000 a year compared to $40,000 for the old system. The cost is split between Tucker’s Division, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, Columbia County Water Utility and Columbia County Construction and Maintenance Services Division.
“We’re just so happy about it,” Tucker said. “This is today’s technology at its best.”