The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is switching their emergency notifications to implement a faster, more modern system. But in order for it to be truly effective, Moab residents must take the initiative to sign up for the system with their cell phones or other mobile devices.
“We’re excited about the new system,” said Grand County Emergency Management representative Craig Sanchez. We just need to get people signed into it.”
Grand County has always had a localized emergency notification system, but when the contract with CodeRed, their previous vendor, ran out, they decided to see if there was a better option.
“We looked at four different systems and AlertSense is the one that was chosen by both Grand County and Carbon County,” Sanchez said. “When emergencies happen, there is no one busier than dispatch ... Anything that can make it easier for the dispatch team is very positive for the sheriff’s office.”
According to Sanchez, the new vendor provides a system with several features not provided by CodeRed, allowing citizens to be informed quickly.
When an emergency happens, there are often a number of people who call 911 to report the incident. This can cost dispatch precious time and manpower investigating the same claim multiple times. The more first responders that are immediately notified in the case of an emergency, the fewer redundant calls dispatch will receive.
AlertSense also has a polling feature that will allow groups such as Grand County Search and Rescue to determine more quickly how many people are able to respond to a call. “That way, the officer in charge knows how many people are coming in, and they can start to map out a grid. I think it’ll be really helpful in certain instances for search and rescue, and for the sheriff’s office in the same way when we have those major incidents,” explained Sanchez, who also works with SAR. This is a major improvement that could save precious time in emergency rescue scenarios. “Basically now we get everything over our radios ... with this, it can go out to the whole group in a matter of seconds,” Sanchez added.
Because emergency scenarios do not always have the best timing, the sheriff’s office was attracted to AlertSense’s round-the-clock availability. “A lot of the reason [local law enforcement] chose this one is that they have a 24/7 help desk, so getting someone to talk to that’s not a recorded message in case there are any issues with the system,” is a positive thing, Sanchez added.
When the sheriff’s office decided not to renew with the previous system, CodeRed, they also lost the contacts of Moab residents CodeRed had collected. “So we’re just encouraging everyone to sign up,” Sanchez explained. “We automatically get landlines, however, in today’s world, very few people have landlines, so we’re asking everyone to register with their cell phones and addresses.”
Residents can sign up either on the sheriff’s office website (www.grandcountrysherriff.org), or by using the AlertSense app to register cell phones, email addresses and any physical address in an area a resident wants to receive notifications for.
“It’s a quick easy signup. It takes less than a minute to get signed up, and you can use your phone number, address, or email and it goes into our database, and that allows us to contact you if the need arises,” Sanchez said. “You can put your work address, your home address, a school, hospitals ... anything you want you can put into the system.
“We’re just encouraging people to sign up all of their phones, that way we’re getting a consistent message to the public.”
When an emergency notification is sent out, it will be delivered in the form of a phone call, text or email and the number used will be 877-957-9563. If the full message is not delivered, residents can call the number back and hear a recording of the alert.
“It can either be a natural disaster or weather-related, it can be for civil incidents, utility incidents, like if there was a gas leak, phone line down, any of the above, we can put that into the notification,” Sanchez said of how the county would be using the system. “If there’s flooding in town we can localize where the flooding is and only alert the people in that area. It can also provide additional information ... like if there are sandbags available at public works, we can put in the address to locate sandbags.” Sanchez is optimistic that the new system can improve upon issues such as 2017’s water emergency.
“There was a camper that was leaking fluids by a fire hydrant, and they weren’t sure if it got into the water system or not, so they were notifying citizens in that area basically door to door, putting flyers on doors about the emergency,” Sanchez said. “If that were to happen in today’s world, we would be able to just send out that notification that there has been possible water contamination, and to please boil water until further notice. So it would make it much easier to notify the public in that area.”
In addition to getting everyone signed into the system, the sheriff’s office is working on mastering the system and making sure it is as effective as possible. “A lot of communities conduct some mock drills for these systems,” explained Sanchez. “That’s something we may do in the future to test out the system just to let people know that it is up and running, and also to make sure everyone is getting the message. So if you’re not getting the message, here’s what we need to do to correct that.”
Sanchez is confident, however, that the office can avoid instances like Hawaii’s Jan. 13 false ballistic missile alert, which sent the state into a panic.
“That didn’t work out very well. We hope the way ours is set up going through dispatch that we won’t have that issue,” Sanchez commented. “There is a press of a button, but there is one final button before a public notification goes out. And they have to put in a code for that message to be delivered. So if me or one of the emergency dispatch personnel puts out a notification, it still has to go through a couple of steps before it goes out to the public.”
Residents can sign up for the AlertSense system by visiting the sheriff’s office website where they will find a red button on the right-hand side of the page that says “AlertSense.” Once clicked, it will take the resident through the sign-up instructions. Residents can also download the AlertSense app for iPhone or Android.