published Friday, January 6th, 2012

5,000 sign up for weather alerts after tornadoes in Jackson County, Ala.

  • photo
    Zac Long, brother Jacob and Justin Aggard helps to clean up debris from Zac's aunts home Monday May 9, 2011 in Higdon, Ala. His aunt survived the tornado which ravaged this small community in rural Jackson county.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


To sign up for CodeRed notifications, Jackson County residents should call the Emergency Management Agency at 256-574-9344, or go to the agency's Facebook page at and click on one of the links for CodeRED.

More than 5,000 households have signed up for a new weather alert system in Jackson County, Ala., where eight people died in four tornadoes last April.

"This morning I couldn't get my breakfast eaten for all the calls coming in," Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Mike Ashburn said Thursday.

Response to the CodeRED cellphone-alert system has been growing steadily as officials promote it across the county, Ashburn said.

"I'm going to say we're going to have close to 5,000 residences with around 15,000 individuals covered, not counting schools," he said.

Last April 27, Jackson County's 53,000 residents were alerted to incoming storms by more than 20 air-raid-style storm sirens, Ashburn said. Between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. CDT that day, the sirens were triggered eight to 10 times, he said.

Sirens will remain in place to sound the alarm, but officials say their effectiveness is limited by terrain. CodeRED spans the gap, because now the alert can come straight to peoples' cellphones wherever they are, Ashburn said.

Subscribers to the free service -- Jackson County is footing the $30,000 yearly bill -- will get an alert call, text message and/or email notifying them of dangerous weather predicted for their neighborhoods, tailored to their street addresses. Subscribers can list up to four phone numbers to receive alerts and can choose the alerts they want.

According to CodeRED's website, the system tracks National Weather Service satellites and automatically retransmits warnings instantly to subscribers in the path of a storm.

Business owners and company supervisors who are out of town can get alerts from Jackson County so they can notify their employees, and residents who are traveling will know what's happening at home, Ashburn said.

He said there's no way to know what difference the system would have made during the 2011 tornado outbreak, but better notification capabilities should help save lives.

CodeRED and the SchoolCast system used by county schools should go "hand in hand," said Billy Beavers, the Jackson County School District's assistant supervisor of attendance and safety. He has both services, he said.

SchoolCast alerts issued by the school system can inform parents of delays, early dismissals, emergencies and the like, Beavers said, while CodeRED alerts people directly in the path of bad weather.

Ashburn said the main idea is to give residents as much warning as possible.

"It won't let a storm sneak up on you," he said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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