Audrain County citizen safety took a big step forward Friday morning. The conference room at the Audrain County Joint Communications Center, while not packed, was lined with a veritable “everybody who’s anybody.” City police departments, ambulance districts, health departments and all manner of Audrain County’s emergency responders were there to listen to Steve Shaw, Audrain County’s emergency management director.
Shaw and company were there to announce and discuss the county’s new emergency alert system.
The wireless, web-based system will notify county residents and those that live close to the county lines of impending or ongoing disasters as well as other situations.
All landline based telephone numbers are in the system as well as any other numbers listed in the white pages of Audrain County-area telephone books, said Shaw.
“This is a great idea and a great system for the citizens of Audrain County,” said Michelle Barnett, director of the county’s 911 system. “We had looked at it before, but could not afford it. Steve’s idea of collaborating and sharing the cost made all the difference.”
Shaw said his department was starting a registration drive to get everybody not already registered with the service signed and listed.
He encourages everybody to use the online registration system at www.audraincounty.org.
Shaw acknowledged not everyone would have access to a computer or consistent web access. “We are training staff to help with the registration process and working with various libraries who want to dedicated computers to the process and some churches are getting ready to volunteer some computers as well,” Shaw said.
“If they want help registering or want to register over the telephone they can call 573-473-5892 or 573-473-7867. This is one good way to reduce the loss of life in Audrain County.”
Steve Hobbs, Audrain County presiding commissioner, agreed.
“This is an interactive alert, not some sort of answering machine,” Hobbs said of the $80,000-plus system.
“You won’t be badgered by it, this isn’t something people will take for granted and ignore like sirens that go off when there’s a storm or something on the other side of the county.”
Because of what Shaw described as “polygonal programming,” only areas affected, or potentially affected, by a storm, manmade disaster or event such as an escaped prisoner will receive the warning call on the telephone of their choosing.
“That way people won’t become desensitized to it and ignore it like they did to sirens and other warnings in Joplin,” Hobbs said.
“When the real warnings came, people tuned them out. When you get one these warning you know it’s real and you know it’s coming.”
The system, Shaw said, gives Audrain, a class III county, the same level of emergency warning, as larger, richer counties such as Boone, Cole and Greene counties.
“I don’t want a Joplin here,” Hobbs said.
“Forty-four percent of those victims ignored the sirens and the warnings…”
The system has several stakeholders investing in it said Shaw and Hobbs.
They include the county commission, the city of Mexico, the city of Vandalia, both their police departments, Audrain County Health Department, County Joint Communications and the ambulance district.
As the system evolves it will also be used to handle targeted public service announcements in a function similar to a community calendar, said Shaw.
Each function will share the options of opting in or out and receiving text messages instead of actual voice messages.
Additionally, while the service is meant to serve anyone with an Audrain County or bordering zip code, Shaw said there was a provision for other numbers to be called or messaged.
“That way you will be notified if something is going on near your parents’ home, for example, and be able to call and check on them if you want,” he said.
Shaw said they initially examined 16 programs and settled on three for live demonstrations.
He said there are no federal or state funds involved.
“I looked, but that money has pretty much dwindled.”
Hobbs said their method of financing the service without any outside help was part of its strength.
“We, the different agencies, all by into it because we are supporting it with funds, supplies and logistics,” Hobbs said.
“This is a great example of leveraging the small amount of funds in a much larger way.”