Garfield County starts new emergency notification system on Nov. 1 | PostIndependent.com
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Garfield County starts new emergency notification system on Nov. 1

Pete FowlerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado – Only people with traditional land lines in Garfield County get reverse 911 calls, but people could soon become aware of emergencies over cell phones, e-mail and other technologies.The Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority (GCECA) plans to switch to the new system Nov. 1. The agency’s board of directors made the decision to switch on July 24, according to GCECA Executive Director Carl Stephens. The GCECA does dispatching for police, fire departments and other organizations in Garfield County.The new software is called 3n, and it could also contact currently unreachable people through cell phones, e-mail, fax, pagers, voice over IP, instant messenger programs and with text messages, Stephens said. But those who don’t have traditional land lines will have to sign up in November at http://www.garco911.org. The site will also allow people to specify how they want to be contacted.Part of the reason behind the switch, Stephens said, is an increase in the number of people who use only cell phones and do not have a traditional land line. Through August this year, the communications authority has seen a 14 percent decrease in the number of traditional land line use and a 25 percent increase in cell phone use over the same period last year, Stephens said.”The land lines are dropping,” he said. “We’ve seen a 9 percent total through August over last year.”No figure was immediately available for how many people use cell phones only in the county. Across the U.S., almost 16 percent of households used only cell phones as of June, while 7.7 percent used cell phones only in 2005, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.The trend toward cell phones and away from land lines means the reverse 911 calls are reaching fewer people. Stephens said it’s becoming a public safety issue, and the new system could make people safer.”It does become a public safety issue because if we need to do an evacuation and we can’t reach them – that’s a reason for going to this system,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve done an evacuation, and all it does is call them at home when they may be at work.”The current system actually seems to encourage agencies not to use reverse 911 calls because the calls incur a sizable fee each time for whichever agency chooses to make them, Stephens said. That could amount to about $4,000 for one series of calls.The new system would cost about $39,000 a year – $10,000 more than the current emergency notification system. But agencies could make as many reverse 911 calls as they saw fit without getting any extra charges.”We’ll probably see an increase in use since we’re not having to pay additional fees for it,” Stephens said.He said agencies haven’t hesitated to incur the fees when there’s an immediate threat to people’s safety, but “we’ve had a couple things where it would be nice to notify the public, just give them a heads up.”The new system would also be more efficient at things like calling in off-duty police officers in case of an emergency. It would make automated contacts over land lines, cell phones, text messages, e-mail and instant messaging while under the current system someone would have to dial up each officer, Stephens said.Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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