The question of financing will determine whether or not Essex County elects to use a system for instantly alerting citizens to emergency situations in the area.
On April 9, Larry Smith, chief of emergency management services, delivered a presentation to the board of supervisors on the potential benefits of the emergency communications system CodeRED to the county.
The system, designed by Emergency Communications Network, has provided critical notifications to localities for 15 years through direct voicemail, text messages and email alerts.
According to Smith’s presentation to the board, CodeRED communicates imminent threat and severe weather warnings to citizens through their phones, computers, tablets and/or other electronic devices.
Aside from weather alerts, the system would immediately notify local residents to hazards and dangerous situations in their area that include but are not limited to gas leaks, oil spills, hostage situations, missing children, sexual predators at large, flu pandemics and terrorist threats.
CodeRED would also provide residents with public works notifications such as planned power outages and roadblocks.
Smith said Mathews, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, Lancaster and Northumberland were among the counties that have already implemented the system.
“CodeRED is one of the top in emergency communications,” said Smith in a phone interview with the Northern Neck News. “It’s a big deal to protect our citizens, and it’s just one more tool that the emergency responders have in their hands.”
Smith said that when the county faces the threat of tornados, high winds, nor’easters and severe thunderstorms, emergency management services need to get the word out quickly.
The best way for them to do that, Smith added, is through cellphones and social networks, namely Twitter.
“We’re trying to hit as many of the communication links of today as we can,” said Smith.
“It used to be, you put it out on the radio and television, and that’s pretty much all you needed to do,” he added. “Except that’s not the way you get people nowadays.”
Although unsure as to whether the county will use the system for fiscal year 2014, Smith said the state is looking at grants, as well as the cost of the project.
He added that the county is interested, but officials have not yet figured out how they would finance the system, whether it would be primarily through grants or line items in the budget.
Smith said officials would look at both state and federal grant opportunities for the project, including potential options offered by the Department of Homeland Security, while the board of supervisors determined whether or not CodeRED was an affordable option to which the county could commit.
He estimated that CodeRED’s top-of-the-line option, which offered unlimited alerts that could be sent out to the public, would cost county taxpayers $7,200 a year.
Smith noted that CodeRED would send out emergency messages to as many forms of communication as each citizen had signed up for, whether they chose to receive text messages through texts, phone calls, notifications on their iPad or through multiple devices.
“They’ll do everything they can, and we’ll talk as much as we can to make sure that people get out and do the registry,” said Smith. “The citizens have to register what they want and how many they want, [but] if they did not register, they wouldn’t get it.”
Smith said that citizens have stopped by to compliment the idea of utilizing the system for Essex County as long as it is cost-efficient.
“It’s something that is an ongoing process to ensure that we do everything we possibly can within the financial guidelines to give our citizens the best safety possible,” Smith said.