A new feature going live this month will address a major shortcoming officials in Schoharie County found when they reviewed their emergency resident notification system: The system currently is set up to leave a computerized message for residents on their home telephones but not on mobile phones.
Deputy emergency management director Colleen Fullford said the office did a test within the 100-year flood plain and realized that a lot changed after Tropical Storm Irene tore through the valley.
“What we found after the disaster was many people didn’t go back to land lines,” she said.
Fullford estimates well more than 100 residents in that flood zone had a telephone hooked up to the wall in their home before the flood, but not nearly as many do now, raising the question of how many people won’t get important information in the event of an emergency.
“When we do a rapid notification, we’re not reaching people that only have cellphones now,” she said. “We want to make sure that everybody has the information.”
The county is testing a new emergency notification system that will enable residents to add a primary and secondary cellphone number to the call list.
Once registered, residents will be able to choose a computerized phone call that will either leave a voice message or send a text message to those phones.
Testing has already begun with county employees and progressed without issues. Fullford said schools and other agencies that receive the Emergency Management Office’s daily situation reports are registering as well.
Even for those flood victims who kept their land lines following the storms, Fullford said mobile phone messaging is a good idea, as people are often working somewhere other than where their primary telephone rings.
“Most families now have both parents working, so if we send out a rapid notification during the day, they aren’t going to know until the evening,” she said.
The new system isn’t meant to replace other alert notifications but rather to supplement them.
New York state has the NY Alert system, which provides road closure and other emergency notifications via text messages or emails, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s WaterAlert feature sends out a text or email to users when creeks or streams start flooding.
Fullford said she suggests that people sign up for all of them.
“The more ways we can get that information out, then the safer our people are,” she said.
Signing up for alert systems, Fullford said, is only one part of being prepared; having plans in place for when an emergency does take place is another critical part.
People can learn more about how to prepare for a disaster on the website of the county’s Emergency Management Office at www.schohariecounty-ny.gov/CountyWebSite/EmergencyManagement/emohome.html.
Fullford said officials are planning an announcement within the next two weeks to let residents know they can begin signing up for the system.
In the meantime, residents can read up on the system and get answers to frequently asked questions at www.schohariecounty-ny.gov.