On August 9th many residents in Berryville received an automated call alerting them that an elderly woman was missing from her assisted living facility. The woman was located later that evening as a direct result of several citizens who acted on the information provided by the alert. At the September Town Council Meeting Chief Neal White of the Town of Berryville Police presented three citizens; Bonnie Dodson, Janie Longerbeam and Iva Longerbeam with certificates of appreciation for assisting in the safe return of the missing woman. Chief White explained the incident to attendees saying:
On August 9th we had an elderly female that was missing from her assisted care facility and she’d been missing for quite some time. We initially searched for her with help from the health care company and were unable to locate her so we activated the Emergency Notification System. Some of you probably got the call or heard it on your answering machine. It alerts citizens when there’s an emergency or a situation that we feel information should be disseminated. As a result, these three ladies went out on their own with their flashlights ready to join the search party which is crucial in my mind to the mission of this department. Luckily Ms. Dodson, from her work with the agency for the aging and working with this woman, knew some of her habits and some of the the places she might be, actually ended up directing us to the place where the missing woman was found. We were able to locate her and she had only minor injuries and was transported to the hospital was treated. She was back at her residence the next day”
He added that, “This is a perfect example of community in action. They didn’t have to get out of their house that night but they came out ready to go and helped us and I wanted to give them all a certificate of appreciation.”
Afterwards Chief White said that this was a big success and while it is a judgement call whether or not to activate the Emergency Notification System, he said, “I think it was the right call because it worked.”
Metrics provided from the notification system indicated that 64% of the calls were answered by residents. This number does not include answering machine pick-ups so the effectiveness for a call going out at 10:00 PM was remarkably high.
He also said that the department had initiated an after action meeting with the sheriff’s office and 911 operators to address citizen comments and seek to improve the system. One recurring comment that officials received was that residents whose calls went to answering machine were incomplete. This was a result of the automated message beginning as soon as the line was picked up. Consequently the portion of the message that is played while the answering machine message plays is lost. The solution that will be employed in the future will be to repeat the message. Each alert will be played through once and then it will be repeated.
Police also heard comments that the computer generated message made many people dismiss the call so in the future, alerts will be recorded by a police official.
One thing that can not be changed that also was commented upon was the fact that the call originates from an 800 number on caller ID. Chief White said there is really no way to change that and the indicated that the department will attempt to educate the public on the number that is used so they will recognize it when they see it.