Clarke County residents will soon be getting a phone call from Sheriff Tony Roper’s department. While a call from the sheriff’s department isn’t a standard event in most people’s lives, this call is important to accept because the information Roper is offering just may save your life.
Sometime around mid-April the Clarke County Sheriff’s department will roll out its new emergency notification system, CodeRed a sophisticated automated communications product from Emergency Communications Network, Inc.
“The primary advantage of CodeRed is that it allows us to keep our citizens informed about situations where their safety or the safety of another could be dependent on us getting information out to them as quickly as possible,” said CCSD Communications Director Pam Hess. “My staff will be trained on the system on April 11th and we will be able to utilize the system after that training is complete. At some point after the training we will be putting out an ‘All Call’ message letting everyone know the system has been placed in service.”
Hess, who has 25-years of service with the sheriff’s department, says that web-based can be activated using many different methods so that information can be delivered as narrowly or as widely as needed.
“We can activate CodeRed by using any number of call lists,” Hess said. “For example, a list based call could be from the town notifying residence that the water service will shut down for maintenance. CodeRed can also be activated using ‘All Call’ which will place calls to all residences within the entire database.”
Hess said that an “All Call” example might include notifying residents to take shelter due to pending severe weather. Hess said that CodeRed can be also be activated to call residents by geographic location.
“We can go on to the mapping portion of the system and draw a polygon around a certain area and notify everyone within that area,” Hess explained. “A possible use for the geographic calling feature could be a chemical release or area where a known suspect was last seen. We could also notify residents about a missing person’s last known location out to a three-mile radius.”
Hess said that notifications can be provided by zip code and town as well.
Sheriff Tony Roper says that as budgets continue to tighten technology is one tool that can help his department do more with less in meeting the County’s public safety needs.
“I recognize that certain technology can absolutely make us more effective, but I also know that it is very easy to get caught up in the ‘must have the latest’ thinking,” Roper said. “I guard against that, and justify every technology purchase by assuring, to the extent possible, that the purchase supports our mission.”
Roper said that CodeRed will also have public benefit beyond its use as an emergency management tool. Roper sees the new software improving communications between Clarke County government and its citizens.
“In addition to the ‘emergency ‘ aspect of this system, we hope to be better able to communicate with folks regarding non-emergency issues,” Roper said. “For example, being able to notify large numbers of selected people about a meeting, or concerning a planned event, that sort of thing. Once we have the lists created, I think the possibilities are almost endless.”
The new CodeRed software will replace the County’s emergency notification system. Hess says that CodeRed was selected because of its ease of use and that it met the Sheriff’s Department’s requirements.
The existing emergency notification system, which has been utilized approximately four times, came under some criticism when it was activated last year to help locate an elderly citizen that had wandered away from her residence. When the automated emergency call was placed, some citizens ignored the call because the caller identification number transmitted with the call did not identify the call as coming from the Sheriff’s Department.
Several residents said in the days following the elderly residents safe recover that they had assumed the call was from a telemarketing firm and didn’t answer it.
Hess said that when grant funding for the existing emergency notification system ran out the decision was made to purchase a new system that better met the needs of the community. But unlike the old system, the CodeRed software is being funded with Clarke County taxpayer dollars. The total price for three years will run the County $38K which includes a database of Clarke County streets and the $9K Weather Warning Service option.
Clarke County purchasing officer Mike Legge said that the County utilized General Services Administration (GSA) contract for the purchase.
Hess said that while the CodeRed has many features that can benefit Clarke County residents, people who rely on non-traditional communication technologies like cellphones and voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) will need to “opt-in” by notifying the system on their preference information.
“It is very important for everyone to sign up just to make sure they are in the database,” Hess said. “While ECN uses public record to get phone information and we have submitted our 911 database that we get through Verizon, many people have opted to not have a hardline/Verizon home phone any longer. If residents use VOIP, cell phones or any phone service provider they will likely not get any emergency notifications. Also there will be a way to opt out of getting any phone calls at all. As soon as we have that mechanism in place we will put that information out.”
Hess said that citizens who “opt-in” beyond standard landline service will have several additional options, including automatic notifications from the National Weather Service in the event of impending weather events.
“In order to receive the weather alerts you have to sign up using the link on the County web page,” Hess said. “CodeRed will let you get alerts on three types of weather situations – tornados, floods or severe thunder storms. You will get these alerts only if the physical address you have entered is in the path of the impending weather. The information is transmitted just after the National Weather Service issues the warnings.”
Hess said that many jurisdictions across the country use the CodeRed system including Madison County, Virginia.
But despite CodeRed’s many technological bells and whistles, Sheriff Roper said that citizens who haven’t moved down the digital highway quite as quickly as others won’t be left alone in the event of a pending problem.
“The CodeRed system allows a great deal of flexibility in a time where people get information in many different ways from many sources,” said Sheriff Roper. “We recognize, however, that a certain population will still want to get only a telephone call at a home number, and that is perfectly acceptable.”