COUNTY Cellphone alert system launched
Emergency program augments existing landline notifications
By Nels Johnson
Marin IJ 1/23/13 8:15 AM
Marin County is launching a new emergency alert cellphone system that could be a life-‐saver.
In the event of fire, flood, tsunami, earthquake or other emergency, the program will augment an existing landline alert program providing residents who have cellphones with information on what is happening and what to do — via text, email or Voice Over Internet Protocol.
Volunteers will fan out at shopping malls, fire stations, libraries and elsewhere across the county from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday to explain the new program.
Participants may sign up at www.alertmarin.org.
“My goal is to register everybody who has a cellphone in Marin County,” said Chris Reilly, emergency services manager in the sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services at the Civic Center. Based on national averages, Marin has more than 170,000 cellphone users.
Reilly said it is important for residents to sign up for free emergency alerts that can be sent via 500 phone lines at a time — far more than the 48 the landline system now uses — and make 10,000 phone connections in an hour. Reilly and other emergency services officials greeted a cluster of reporters Tuesday to explain the system before this weekend’s publicity sweep. Some 1,800 people already have visited the website and signed up.
In the event of a fire in Mill Valley, flood crisis in San Anselmo, tidal wave alert at Stinson Beach or incidents that could include public safety, health, crime or missing persons, the system can identify registered cellphone users who live in the area about events unfolding in their neighborhood and provide instructions.
As a fire erupts or water levels rise, “we get notified (by public safety authorities) and send the message out” to those who have registered, “to say this is what we’re doing,” Reilly said.
Cellphones are not tracked. The geographic system sends messages to phones based on their registered locations.
Each geographic location in Marin a user chooses requires registration with a unique identifying email address.
Residents may register up to two cellphone numbers and one VoIP number per geographic location. Registrants must be 18 or over.
“It’s a secure website, so people don’t have to worry about their information being stolen,” Reilly said. “It’s a secure portal.”
Many people are abandoning landline phones and going mobile, affecting “how quickly we can get information out to the community,” noted Supervisor Susan Adams, chairwoman of the county Disaster Council. Adams, who limped into the press conference using a cane after injuring her
knee, noted the success of the program will depend on “educating the public about how to sign up,” and getting the word out.
Reilly reported that the existing landline “telephone emergency notification system” has been activated 20 times over the past two years, most recently advising San Anselmo participants about rising creek levels during holiday rainstorms. Some 10,000 land lines were called in 2006 during the Ross Valley flooding.
The system, funded largely through grants, will cost about $93,000 over the next three years, including a $23,000 tab for marketing expert Colette Weil of Mill Valley, a corporate branding veteran. She noted cellphone users without Internet access can sign up at local libraries where computer services are offered.
Weil said the new system could save lives, and most certainly will promote safety and provide peace of mind by relaying critical information.
She cited the case of her daughter, Marissa Page of Mill Valley, who like many of her peers has not had a landline for years.
“I registered my cellphone right away on alertmarin. org.” Page said. “If something happens to our condo while I am away, I want to get the alert directly from the source so I’ll know what to do.”