How do you make sure CodeRed calls go out during an emergency?
It takes a little training and some experience to make it happen, along with communication along all the official channels, according to Roger Martin, Director for Crawford County Emergency Management. That’s a view echoed by Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick and Julie Cirpa, the 911 Director.
The system was not deployed during the storms in late June that resulted in some flooding and many mudslides that closed county and state roads. The only notifications made through the system were the weather alert texts signed up for by a handful of county residents.
“There is a common assumption that dispatch knows what’s going on everywhere,” said Cipra. “We are in an office inside a building. We’re often not getting notified until well after the fact.”
Cipra noted that during an event, not being out on the ground and interpreting events from a distance, all while fielding the normal day-to-day calls, means the onus resides on local government officials and law enforcement.
“If there is something critical, it is law enforcement that will be responding first,” Cipra noted.
Martin was quick to shoulder responsibility for the system not being used during the June storms.
“As busy as it was, I would have to take the blame, because I really never thought about it,” Martin said. “It was definitely a tool we could have used.”
But not, he added, for road closures.
“We have a hard time getting information from the county highway department,” Martin said. He noted that during that storm, when there were mudslides happening so extensively, if they had sent notifications for them via CodeRed, county residents would probably not have been happy. “We would have been making calls every few minutes.”
That series of events should provide fodder for improving the systems use in the future, according to McCullick.
“We are always trying to figure out how to better utilize the tools we have,” McCullick said. “This is something new, so we are still incorporating it into how we think about responding.”
One thing that may be holding the county back from using the system is figuring out how to use it efficiently.
“There are 6,832 records in the database for emergency notifications,” Cipra explained. “These are mostly published land line phone numbers unless someone signs up to receive calls on their cell phone as well.”
For all of those numbers, the county’s $12,000 contract gives them 20,000 minutes per year (about 333 hours) for making calls, while text messages are free.
“We have to be cautious,” Cipra said, noting that they didn’t want to use those minutes unnecessarily nor annoy people by over-notifying them.
If they go over the contract minutes, they have to purchase additional minutes in blocks of 2,125 minutes at 40 cents per minute or $850 per block.
“The system launched January 1, 2013,” Cipra said. “Based on the number of voice hours we have used this year it would be around 200 hours but that does not account for texts/emails which there is no good way to compute.”
With 200 hours already used, the county is close to already using two-thirds of its initial allotment of 333 hours.
“Every single voice call that is made uses up time,” Cipra continued. “If we record a voice message that lasts 20 seconds long and we send it to the whole county database of 6,832 phone numbers (x 20 seconds each) we have used a fair amount of time up. That is why we use texting/email as much as we can and save voice calls for critical issues only.”
Martin too expressed that the extra cost incurred if the county were to exceed its emergency notification minutes factors into making the decision to use.
“We strongly suggest they sign up for text messages as this is the fastest/most economical way for us to send a message,” Cipra said. “But people still have to be responsible for themselves, using their judgment when responding to a situation.”
There are two ways sign up additional phone numbers or to opt in for the weather alerts:
• visit the Crawford County online at www. http://crawfordcountywi.org and click on the CodeRed and CodeRed Weather Warning link; or
• call 608-326-0267 to leave a message and someone will return your call to assist you with signing up.