published Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Walker County, Ga., getting warning system

  • photo
    David Ashburn is a member of the Walker County Development Authority.
    Photo by Ryan Harris

Starting March 1, if disaster strikes in Walker County, Ga., residents with land line phones will get a warning call if they're in harm's way.

"A really clear voice that is electronic will say, 'There is a flood' or whatever [the threat is]," said Kiva Wyandotte, account manager for Sam Asher Computing Services Inc.

Asher is the Rochester, N.Y.-based company the county has hired to provide what's commonly called "reverse 911," a computerized system that lets emergency services personnel call to tell people in a specific area that a tornado, wildfire, flood or other threat is imminent.

"It's a way to notify the public," County Coordinator David Ashburn said. "We're looking at going live with it on March 1st."

Walker County is spending $23,000 in federal hazard mitigation grant money for two years of the Hyper-Reach emergency notification system, which also lets the county call its emergency personnel all at once.

Reverse 911 calls are directed by county officials working from a Google map interface underlain with residents' phone numbers.

County residents with land line phones automatically will receive warning calls. People with cellphones will be able to log onto a website and receive text messages or calls. Residents also will be able to sign up for alerts via social media.

In a really serious emergency, such as a tornado that's touched down, another system will kick in. All cellphone users -- even drivers passing through Walker County -- should get a text warning sent out from cellphone towers in the county.

That's available through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, a federal program instituted in the wake of criticism over the response to Hurricane Katrina.

It's like the emergency warning notifications sent over television and radio, Wyandotte said.

"It's the same thing; this is the newest version of it -- that contacts people directly," she said.

It may take a couple of months for IPAWS to be activated in Walker County, she said.

After the initial two years, Ashburn said Walker County will pay about $6,000 annually for the emergency calling contract. He expects Dade County will take part, too.

Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell on Thursday signed the contract for the service.

The contract is Asher's first account in Georgia, Wyandotte said. The company provides emergency calling services in Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.

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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