SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - In the days after the July 10, 2013, flash flood that devastated the city, Marion County Emergency Management Director Steve Lamb couldn't help but think about the mass communication system his agency was planning to bring to the area.
"It kept running through my head," he said. "My goodness, why didn't we have it now? We should have had it now."
After three years of research and months of testing, officials announced Tuesday that the system, called "Alert Marion County," is now fully operational and waiting for residents to sign on.
Louise Powell, treasurer for the county's 911 board, said Everbridge in Glendale, Calif., was chosen as the company to bring the area a technologically advanced alert system.
The flood in South Pittsburg, she said, only accelerated the process.
"It is now live," she said. "We just signed up the first official resident of Marion County [on Tuesday]."
That resident was South Pittsburg Mayor Jane Dawkins.
"We wanted to focus on South Pittsburg," Powell said. "It will launch here because of everything everyone in this town has been through.
"We're sorry we didn't have it during the flood, but we have it now," she said of the system. "Hopefully, we'll be ready when something happens again."
The alert system works in a different way than the previous outdated structure, she said.
During the online registration process, residents choose how they want to be alerted.
For example, if a resident chooses contact by text message as the priority, that is what the system will try first.
If there is no response, it will try the next contact choice, possibly a cellphone call. No response there would lead to the person's next choice and so on until contact is confirmed.
"You choose the best path [for contact]," Lamb said. "The beauty of this system is it's going to go down the line to make sure that it delivers a message to the residents of the county. We felt like this is the best way because you tailor it to how you want to receive the message."
Residents may choose up to five addresses to receive messages for specific areas in the county.
Those with special medical needs can provide that information during registration so the system can inform emergency management officials about the location of residents needing critical help during an emergency.
The contract for the system is intended only for Marion County, Lamb said, but those who work in the county and live outside it can register their work address for alerts there.
The system comes at no cost to the county and is paid for through grant money, and officials said the goal is to enroll every resident in the county over the next 90 days.
Officials plan to organize sign-up drives in the coming weeks to assist residents in joining the alert system.
Registration at www.alertmarioncounty.com is optional and free of charge. Anyone needing assistance may contact the Marion County EMA at 423-413-7135.
"We've got to get the word out, and we've got to get the people into the system," Powell said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryan firstname.lastname@example.org.