Use of Emergency Alert System Raises Questions

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.”

Alert system mapping interface - Image courtesy of GeoComm Inc.

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.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:

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 phess@clarkecounty.gov

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.

Comments

  1. I’m sure it is startling to recieve a call in the middle of the night but to call and complain about being notified that an elderly women is missing is just horrible. Shame on her.

    • CCHS Parent says:

      Let’s hope the person that complained is never in the situation that loses a family member!! It is not something you wish to happen to you and your family.

  2. I would like to be removed from the list also. Can CDN research and provide information on how one goes about being removed or do I need to call Sheriff Roper to be removed from the list?

    • I only hope you don’t one day regret not recieving a notification that would have come to you via reverse 911. Sad.

      • I would have no regrets and I would not be answering my phone at 12:30 AM. How stupid is this? As noted in other posts most people do not answer the phone from a 800 number or a number they do not recognize. Just another example of government stupidity.

        Sorry I don’t agree with your “group think”.

        • You’re right, you probably won’t have regrets as the issue at hand won’t concern you..clearly. Sometimes its about the community and what the community needs and helping others…not that your sleep isn’t interuptted. That would be a shame.

        • Steve, I did say that. My point was that I would have answered it knowing where it came from and that I wasn’t annoyed by it. I disagree with your feelings on this but I respect them. However don’t try and twist my words to help make your point.

        • Gee! I hope you never need assistance!

  3. How do you even get on the list? I don’t have a landline, only a mobile phone registered in another county.

  4. I live in the Senseny Road area and I think I may have recieved this call. I didn’t answer because it came from a weird 800 number. Can the sheriffs office make it show on the caller ID that it’s coming from them? I would have answered that call and certainly would have gone outside to look for this lady.

  5. I agree. Shame on individuals wanting to be removed. Would they feel the same way if it were an amber alert? This is someone’s loved one and as a community, we should all feel the need and want to assist in any way possible. Startling as it may be to receive a phone call during the middle of the night, five minutes of time to check your yards and area could save a life. This is a frightening time for families of those missing and as a community, you would think all would want to play a part in finding any missing individual, not acting selfish! I would hope if this happened in the town where I live I would receive such notification!

  6. doubleedge says:

    It seems to me, that we received a call last winter during one of the snowstorms about the county having a shelter available for those in need. I believe there was a news article advising that was the first use of the countywide alert system. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to opt out of a system that not only advises of citizens in need, but possibly of a hazardous materials spill on some highway that may effect our homes. But to each his own.

  7. Bill Tavenner says:

    I am a member of Enders Fire and Rescue, and was on the search for the missing person. The alert went out from dispatch over the phone for the designated area and we had a great response from the local neighbors. They appreciated the alert and were very helpful for the 3 hour search. I can’t believe anyone would complain about a phone call notifying them of an emergency situation regardless of missing person or another situation that could save a life or be detrimental to the community. I approve of this system and hope our community will understand the importance of it. Great asset for emergency situations.

    • Brenda Klepper says:

      I am so glad I live in a county where the majority of residents were not annoyed by the calls but were concerned for the well being of one of their most vulnerable.

  8. It is very sad to hear that some poeple want to be removed from a list that some day might help them or a loved one in a emergency. As a volunteer fire fighter in Clarke County I can say this system helps the first responders in evacuating residents or sheltering residents in place in emegency situations. The system can also assist the Clarke County Emergency Services and residents in many other ways just like it did on Sunday night in helping in the search and rescue of a local woman. So just keep in mind that if you want and are removed from the phone list and the system is activated in an emergency and you can’t be reached and your life is put in danger remember it is your fault.

    • I am not answering my phone at 11:00 PM or 1:00 AM. I would not answer my phone for a number I did not recognize. This system was not well thought out and just a waste of resources and tax payer money.

      I also don’t need this system to protect me or my family. I gladly own that accountability and responsibility.

      Not being on some phone activation list is not going to put me or any member of my family in any danger. The chicken little’s in this world with oh my the sky is falling.

  9. I think that an emergency number is a great idea, but I agree with someone above who said it would be nice to have it appear as something else on the Caller ID. I generally don’t answer 800 numbers because it is generally a salesman or survey or something I want to avoid.

  10. I live near the location not far from Senseny Road. Yes, I received both calls and I’m glad I did. Any time I can be helpful in any way is a pleasure. It doesn’t matter what time day or night it is. We are all God’s children that faces needs. That’s what makes the system so wonderful to know we have it any time it is needed. It would make it better to know that the 800 number is an alert number. Keep up the good work that you’re doing for the community. Thanks, Ramona

  11. I don’t think the complainer was out of line at all. I go to sleep at 9pm. If I were to get a call at 10:30pm I’d be a little peeved also. If the missing ladys caretaker had kept track of her in the first place, there would be no issue. Oh, and why can’t the police do their job without disturbing half the county?

    • You people who are complaining about getting the calls at night are forgetting to do the one simple thing that would alleviate your problem…

      Unplug your phone before you go to bed.

  12. Tony Reynolds says:

    This is maybe past the shelf date but…we are fortunate to live in a community – no make that a COMMUNITY. We are diverse but mostly understand the sense of community and common good. Neighbor helping neighbor is the foundation of a COMMUNITY – and a good quality of life. Be thankful that in a time of need there are folks close by that can be called and are willing to help – even in the middle of the night.