Clarke County citizens will soon have a new state-of-the-art emergency notification system. Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper gained budgetary approval from the Board of Supervisors to move forward with procuring a new system last Monday, although the authorization vote was not unanimous.
In his request for the $6,500 necessary for the first six months of operation, Roper told the Supervisors that the new emergency notification system has many benefits over the current system including improved reliability and flexibility.
“The new system will allow us to send notifications to members of the community by phone call, text message or email” Roper said. “We can also send messages to only people in specific geographic areas.”
Roper said that the new software provides a method for citizens to create and manage their own personal profiles that specify how they will receive notifications – text message, voice, email – or to opt out of the system entirely.
Roper said that he did not expect a large number of citizens to opt out.
“Although there have been complaints about message voice quality and the caller identification system displaying as an ‘800’ exchange with the current system, no one has opted out so far” Roper said.
Roper said that his office has activated the current emergency call system five times. Although the system operated properly on four occasions, one activation attempt failed. Roper also told the Supervisors that a recent activation of the system to locate an elderly person lost in Berryville earlier this summer was not as effective as it could have been because some citizens chose not to answer the call assuming that the unrecognized ‘800’ caller-id exchange may have been a telemarketing call.
In addition to solving the caller-id display problem, Roper said, the new system does not impose increased charges for message length or number of calls as does the emergency notification system being currently used by his department.
While the majority of the Supervisors appeared satisfied that the new software was not only an improvement, but necessary for alerting citizens to potentially hazardous situations, one Supervisor disagreed with spending the requested funds.
“This is a waste of money” said Supervisor Pete Dunning (White Post). “You can’t notify people quickly enough with any system to make a difference.” As evidence, Dunning recounted an incident that occurred in his district many years ago when a fugitive attacked several people before police were able to intervene.
Dunning said that even of the County had had an emergency notification system at the time, the speed that criminal events can occur can make notification calls untimely. Dunning asked the Sheriff if the system was necessary.
Sheriff Roper replied “If I decide that it’s important enough to go out and procure then we’ll stand by that decision.”
Supervisor Michael Hobert (Berryville) responded to Dunning’s concern saying that the emergency notification system was useful in many ways beside the type of situation describe by Mr. Dunning. Hobert cited the example of emergency systems generating warning calls based on National Weather Service notifications.
“These systems have a lot of benefit but they are not perfect” Hobert said.
“They’re not perfect during a time when we don’t have much money” Dunning responded.
“Well, the Sheriff will have $13K charged against his budget for the system’s annual cost” Hobert said. “In doing so Sheriff Roper is stating what he believes is important to the community in 2011.”
Supervisors Hobert, Staelin (Millwood), Weiss (Buckmarsh) and Byrd (Russell) approved the $6,500 budget allocation to cover the cost of the emergency notification system for six-month. Supervisor Dunning voted against the expenditure.