By Jason E. Silvers
Fort Scott Tribune – May 30, 2014
County emergency officials have been working recently to put the finishing touches on an agreement with CodeRED, which will provide the new warning system to the county.
Bourbon County Emergency Manager Will Wallis said the project to implement the new system is in the “very, very early stages.”
“It’s a 14-day give or take process on their (CodeRED) end once the contract is signed,” Wallis said. “The contract was signed last Friday. We still have a portion they’re going to sign tomorrow (Friday).”
Wallis said Deputy Emergency Manager Shane Walker and Fort Scott Fire Chief Paul Ballou conducted most of the research on a new notification system prior to Wallis coming on board with the county earlier this year.
“It’s a 24/7, 365-day-a-year system,” Wallis said. “We have the ability to implement an unlimited amount of texting, use of social media and voice messages. It will be provided to every person with a phone system, even someone who is traveling through the county.”
Ballou said “anything or anyone with an IP (internet protocol) address can receive notifications” through the new system. He also talked about the new system’s potential benefits.
“It’s a mass notification,” he said. “People get concerned during severe weather. For example, if we were to lose dispatch, if for some reason it went down, we would still be able to utilize this and get notifications out to people and let them know what’s going on.”
Another advantage, Ballou said, is that the new system should draw more people than use the county’s current notification system, called IRIS.
“There’s not a tenth of the population in the county on the current system; this will hopefully allow more people to access it,” Ballou said.
Ballou said the “emergency side” of the new system will run out of the current dispatch center. There is also a “non-emergency side” to the new system that can be used for such communications as contacting employees of various departments.
Wallis said the new system could also result in saving taxpayer money. For example, during a snow storm in the county, the alert system could be used to notify county crews by cell phone to not show up for work if the storm is not as bad as anticipated and only one or two workers are needed.
“You can do a lot with it, or very little,” he said. “The sky’s the limit on all the notifications this thing can be used for.”
Ballou said Walker manages the county’s current system, which Ballou said is “not a real user-friendly type system.”
“You have to go in and type the names and numbers sent out and delete information if you want to take it out,” he said. “With CodeRED, everything is already loaded in there.”
Wallis agreed, saying the current system “doesn’t have the speed or user-friendly capability.”
“We want to get the most bang for our buck,” he said.
Wallis said CodeRED will work “similar to but not the same as an Amber Alert system.” The system can be used to warn of approaching storms, or a lost child – even if the child hasn’t been abducted.
“Any cell phones, land lines — there’s a lot of capabilities,” he said. “There’s a 24/7 technical support. We’ll have the capability to do weather warnings. It will be segmented and categorized by area in the county.”
Wallis said the county has signed a three-year contract for the system at a cost of $10,000 per year. Money to fund the new system will come from a combination of grant money received through the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, and portions of various county department budgets, including emergency management, IT, and roads and bridges.
“Which is basically nothing if it saves one person’s life,” he said. “We’re signed up for three years locked in. We do have a clause that the county attorney said should be in the contract, which means if the grant were to disappear tomorrow, we could walk away from the contract.”
Wallis added, “The price will stay the same forever. It will be re-upped every three years, which negotiations can be conducted at that time. It will be the same price, same contract, same services. We have command and control over what’s sent and who is able to send what. It’s for the benefit of the entire community and county.”
Wallis said he thinks other local entities will get on board with the system once they see it in action. Plus the cost could be divided up between more entities that get involved, bringing the cost for each entity down.
“The city is involved currently and I’m sure will buy in as time goes on, once they see the benefit to this program and see the working components,” he said. “I think they’ll buy into it. The same with schools. The schools have a program they currently use. And the more people involved, the less it will cost to have a better system.”
Another benefit, Wallis said, is the new system will allow farmers with cell phones who are out in the field plowing or planting to receive notifications of incoming severe weather – something that can’t be done with the current system. It will also provide a series of updates on power outages and other emergencies.
“A farmer who is out in his tractor will get the message that a tornado has been sighted or a funnel cloud has touched down,” he said. “The current situation is limited all the way around. A lot of things will be transmitted quickly.”
Set up and training on the new notification system will take place once the company providing the service has established a timeline. Experts on the system will give a presentation first and then county officials will be walked through use of the new system, Wallis said.
“If there’s ever been a smart way to spend money to help the general population of Bourbon County, this is it,” he said. “It keeps people in the loop. There is nothing in my eye that is negative about this.”
Ballou also said there will be a period of testing of the new system and “everyone will be notified before the test.”
Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster