published Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Catoosa County to get alert-calls system

Catoosa County, Ga., residents soon should be able to sign up to get a phone call, email or text alerting them that a tornado, flood or other calamity is on the way.

The Catoosa County Commission this week accepted $13,250 in federal and state emergency management agency grant money to fund a mass notification system.

The county, which was hit hard by the April 2011 tornadoes, plans to combine that with $21,500 from the Salvation Army and up to $6,000 in county money to fund the mass notification system for two years.

"It'll be the first one we've ever had," county fire Battalion Chief Steven Quinn said.

The next step for county commissioners will be to approve a contract. The system could come online in late April or early May, Quinn said.

A committee of county emergency officials, including from the sheriff's office and 911 center, sifted through 12 companies' offers to provide the service, he said, with bids ranging from $11,000 to $76,000 annually.

"We had them from all over the country that applied," Quinn said.

The committee tentatively picked Everbridge, a Glendale, Calif.-based company that says it serves more than 1,000 organizations in 106 countries.

Everbridge would cost Catoosa County about $20,000 annually.

"They were not the least [expensive], but they were toward the bottom," Quinn said.

Catoosa County would have to figure out how to fund the mass calling service after the grant money runs out in two years.

"I would like to see us continue it as long as the county can afford it," Quinn said.

One thing the committee liked about Everbridge is that it would let residents plug in up to five methods to be reached, including home phones, cellphones, email and pagers. Everbridge will roll through the list, Quinn said, until it's certain a notification has gone through.

Catoosa County will have a link on its website that will allow residents to input their contact information.

"You will have to sign up for it," Quinn said.

Catoosa County doesn't have access to a database of residents' landlines, he said, so only those who sign up will get alerts.

Walker County, Ga., spent $23,000 in grants for two years of a computerized mass alert phone service to warn residents about impending disasters.

Since the system went online about a month ago, about 500 to 600 people have entered their cellphone numbers on the county's website, County Coordinator David Ashburn said.

Many people forgo landline phones and only have cellphones, he said.

"More and more people are moving that way," Ashburn said.

Walker County's 911 center already had its own database of residents' landline phone numbers, Ashburn said, so they'll be alerted regardless of whether they sign up for the emergency notification service.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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