The emergency alert system being used by the Clarke County Sheriff’s department caught many residents off guard last week and created some confusion during its first widespread usage by police. The system was activated on October 10th in order to locate a missing elderly adult. The message provided the basic information that an elderly female Alzheimer patient was missing in the area of Senseny Rd. It included her description, what she was wearing and requested that residents please check around their property for her. The system uses a computer generated voice that many residents found to be an unusual call. The timing was also a factor in the confusion. The initial call went out at 10:59 PM. The follow up call, which went to an even larger list of numbers, informed recipients that the individual had been located. That call went out at 12:30 AM.
The alert was targeted around the radius of Senseny Road. The system allows the user to draw a perimeter of the area that should be called and the system automatically draws from the database of numbers for the area selected. 1398 calls went out based on the area that the sheriff’s office selected.
At the Tuesday meeting of the County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Roper told the board that his department had received numerous calls regarding the alert. Most of the calls were for clarification because many residents were unaware that Clarke County had an alert system in place. Two callers asked how they could be of assistance and offered to look for the missing individual. Only one call was an actual complaint criticizing the system. Sheriff Roper told the Supervisors “One person was very critical of the whole process and what we are going to offer her is to remove her from the list of numbers we call.”
Contributing to the confusion was a discrepancy in the list of numbers that received the two calls. A small number of people received only the second call at 12:30 AM informing them that the missing individual had been located. Sheriff Roper said, “There were 10 or 12 people maybe more, that did not receive the first call. So the initial group did not match exactly the first group, so some people only received the second call and were completely confused.” He told the board that his office was attempting to identify the source of the discrepancy and remedy the situation.
Sheriff Roper said he is assessing the system from this usage and the reaction from the public. “We need to evaluate the calls and reactions as they come in.” He characterized it as a learning process, but emphasized the need to communicate to the public that this is an important service.
The service is provided by GeoComm, Inc. and is paid for with funding from a grant the sheriff’s office received.
Based on readers comments the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office has provided the following information regarding opt-out procedures- CDN
Residents who wish to be removed from the list can simply send an email with their name and address to Pamela L. Hess – Communications Director at the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
The database is updated quarterly so all changes will take place in the next quarter. Residents should understand that removal from the list will mean that they will not be notified about any public safety information. This includes a variety of potential alerts ranging from missing children to hazardous material incidents.