Cumberland Times-News

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May 11, 2013

Emergency systems in place in Allegany County, including door-to-door notifications

CUMBERLAND — Various disaster warnings are in place in Allegany County but, if all else fails, communities would be notified in door-to-door contact by first responders.

Dick DeVore, director of the Department of Emergency Services in Allegany County, said last week he believes the county is “in a very strong position” in using technology to contact residents in the event of a public emergency.

A mainstay in the county’s emergency notification system is the Emergency Alert System. The system interrupts television and radio broadcasts with emergency messages that could be presented audibly or in a message scrolled at the bottom of a television screen.

Another alert system called Nixle Connect allows for residents to register to receive emergency messages on cell phones or through email. Residents may sign up for the service on the Allegany County website at http://gov.allconet.org/.

The county is also pursuing a reverse 911 messaging system that would allow the county to send emergency messages into communities through its 911 telephone data base. The county is seeking the technology through application with the federal government.

Social media sites are also used heavily by the county to immediately contact the public.

“The most powerful tools we have are the Twitter and Facebook social media outreach that allows for two-way communication. It also can be easily measured to determine how far we are reaching into the communities,” said DeVore. For example, last winter DeVore used the social media to seek snowfall totals and roadway conditions from residents throughout the county and the response was overwhelming.

With all that technology in place, what happens when the electrical service and cell phone service fails?

“Our default system in that case is to communicate by sending first responders door-to-door. Battery-powered radios are also recommended for use to receive broadcasted messages in the event of power outages. This gives individuals an opportunity to be plugged in with redundant systems,” said DeVore.

Emergency information is also communicated by an emergency alerting system called ALERTUS that has been employed in the Allegany County school system for the past five years.

“In light of recent events, security and effective communications for K-12 schools is more vital than ever before,”  said Roger Bennett, chief of the Allegany County 911 Joint Communications Division.

“The Allegany County Public School System has partnered with the Allegany County 911 Joint Communications Center for the operation of the ALERTUS system. The system addresses the complex issues involved with informing administration, faculty, students and visitors of emergency situations.

“ With the use of an Alert Beacon located in each school, the 911 Joint Communications Center provides an audible alarm and instructions on how to react to an emergency situation to all or one school in real time as the incident changes. The speed of the system is based on preset alert activation scenarios that are quickly pushed out to schools for quick, immediate action,” said Bennett.

The system is tested weekly by the 911 center. The actual emergencies are made up of a few weather occurrences but mostly for law enforcement action near schools. “If we have police activity near a school, the school is locked down until the all clear is given by the appropriate authorities,” said Bennett.

The board of education has funded 100 percent of the cost of the alert system since its launch in 2008.

“The value of the system cannot be matched by cost. The 911 center’s ability to lock down or evacuate a school as an incident develops is priceless,” said Bennett.

DeVore believes Allegany County is in “a very strong position to reach citizens in the county.”

“We will not rely on any one single system to access and disseminate information. We preach to people to have redundant communications in the event of an emergency. Be proactive to receive information in various ways,” he said. “As a last resort, we will turn to person-to-person contact and battery-powered radios.”

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.

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