Aimed at giving people in the path of a potential tornado advance warning so they can take cover, a new reverse 911 service alerted many people in Warren County when severe weather approached Wednesday morning.
“The system uses land lines to alert people when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for their area,” said 911 director Chuck Haston, noting people in the warning areas Wednesday morning were alerted by a phone call. “Outside the city where there aren’t any tornado sirens, there wasn’t really a way to do a mass notification before. The reverse 911 system provides us with a way to do a mass notification.”
In the case of the pre-dawn storm Wednesday morning, residents with land lines in the warning area had an hour of advanced warning. Haston said the calls to land lines are made automatically when the NWS puts out a tornado warning.
“We do it only for tornado warnings,” Haston said. “We don’t want to overuse it.”
The 911 director revealed the alert system uses the exact longitude and latitude of the storm to single out the land lines which need to be called since the NWS often limits a warning area to just a section – not an entire county.
Haston said a company called HyperReach provides the notification service. It is the same service used by the school system to advise parents when schools are canceled.
“We can also manually use the reverse 911 to do a mass notification if there’s a hazmat emergency like a chemical spill where an entire area needs to be evacuated,” Haston said. “We can even use it for a missing child.”
Haston said feedback has been good after the system’s use on Wednesday. However he noted people can opt out of the notifications by contacting the 911 non-emergency number at 668-7000.
People can also opt-in when it comes to cellphone notifications by calling the non-emergency number. One local resident noted his cellphone was called three times Wednesday morning, showing the warnings were received at 4:16 a.m., 4:42 a.m., and 5:31 a.m.
For those wanting more information before they opt in or opt out of the program, Haston said he will be running an ad in the newspaper with a web address and a QR code that people with smart phones can scan and access. The site will have a tutorial video and those visiting the site can choose to opt-in for cellphone notifications if they wish.