Catoosa Readies For Emergencies: Installing Mass Alert System, Warning Sirens

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - by Mike O'Neal

Better communications result in better responses and results, particularly during times of crisis or disaster. That is why Catoosa County government is spending more than $19,000 to establish an account with Everbridge, an international leader in providing emergency and mass notification services.


Everbridge will provide official warnings and alerts, within seconds of their being issued, at no charge to any local subscriber, according to Clarence Muse, deputy director of the local Emergency Management Agency.


There is no cost for any individual, business or agency to sign up for the service, he said.


Mr. Muse said nearly every communication device—including mobile phones, landlines, smartphones, email, text messaging, instant messaging, pagers, computers, fax machines and even an electronic billboards or road sign — is capable of instantaneously receiving notifications.


Alerts can be triggered by a 911 dispatch operator, an on-site incident commander or an authorized outside entity, such as the National Weather Service, and can be either broadcast generally or to specific areas.


“It can be a real warning from eyes on the ground,” Commission Chairman Keith Greene said during the Tuesday commission meeting.


The Everbridge system’s abilities recently were shown immediately following the Boston Marathon bombing. That city regularly uses the software communication network to warn of impending storms or as reminders about road closures and detours.


But following those two finish line blasts, Everbridge was used to call for help, to direct emergency personnel and as a way for the public to check on one another. By day’s end, hundreds of thousands of messages had been sent and received, according to company reports.


The software bypassed overloaded cell towers by using land-based phone lines and Wi-Fi signals to send alerts to phones, e-mail addresses, pagers, faxes — even electronic billboards and road signs.


Catoosa County’s software will be identical, with the primary mission of providing severe weather warnings and emergency information, and could have shown its worth when cells of tornadoes, including one that struck Ringgold, swept the Southeast in April 2011.


Costs associated with this initial year’s service will cost the county nothing, according to Catoosa EMA director Steve Quinn.


A total of $13,250 in Federal and State emergency management agency grants will cover about 75 percent, an additional 10 percent state grant and funds donated to the Salvation Army following the April 27 tornado will cover the remainder, he said.


Since Everbridge is a software program, operated from redundant centers nationwide, its local implementation will be strictly dependent on who signs up to receive its messages or alerts, Mr. Muse said.


Now that the county commissioners have approved the contract, Mr. Muse said information about how to register with Everbridge should be made public, possibly before the end of the month.


In addition to a software solution to warn of emergencies, the county will also apply federal, state and local funds to install about $52,000 of hardware that could help save lives in time of danger.


A Hazard Mitigation Grant for Warning Sirens will be used to install two old-school “air raid” sirens, one at Lakeview Middle School and another at Ringgold High School, to provide high decibel warnings.


“FEMA has suggested that sirens and mass alert systems be used together,” Mr. Muse said.

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