To better serve the people of Warwick during a crisis, such as a hurricane or flood, Mayor Scott Avedisian and his administration instituted a new rapid emergency notification service, CodeRED.
The city purchased the system from CodeRED Emergency Communications Network for $19,000 before Hurricane Sandy. Funds came from the Warwick Fire Department’s EMA budget and cover an entire year of use. Warwick is one of the first municipalities in Rhode Island to buy the system, said Warwick Fire Department Chief Ed Armstrong.
According to the city website at warwickri.gov, “The system will distribute emergency messages via telephone to targeted areas or the entire county at a rate of 1,000 calls per minute.” It “employs a one-of-a-kind Internet mapping capability for geographic targeting of calls, coupled with a high speed telephone calling system capable of delivering customized pre-recorded emergency messages directly to homes and businesses, live individuals and answering machines.”
Residents are able to register for free via the city website. By doing so, they will be added to the emergency call list.
If the city chooses not to purchase the system in the future, the company will delete all contact information from their files. They do not sell or give out any information.
Armstrong said more than 3,100 people signed up within the first three days it was active, with Monday being the first day.
“In the course of the night from 6 o’clock [Monday] night until 9 o’clock [yesterday] morning, we had over 500 people sign up over the Internet or by calling it in,” Armstrong said. “CodeRED gives us the ability to notify citizens within a few minutes if they must evacuate an area.”
Avedisian said when Armstrong tried to reach businesses during the storm, they only had office numbers. This made it nearly impossible for them to speak with owners and help them.
“If you couldn’t get to your business, how could we get to you to tell you what was going on?” he said. “Previously, we used a reverse 911 system, and it was good. It got the word out to a lot of people, but we kept saying, ‘There’s got to be something else.’”
Then, Avedisian heard of the program, which allows people to choose a particular phone number, email, Twitter account, Facebook or other method to reach them in case of an emergency.
“During Sandy, we weren’t fully operating the program,” he said. “It was just a matter of timing as to when it was going to be out there and fully operational.”
The administration recently decided to test it by sending out a message about the flu vaccination. As noted, Avedisian said the response was “amazing,” with at least 3,100 people responding since the call went out Monday.
The only issue, said Avedisian, is getting information from people who don’t have Internet accessibility. Most likely, the city will use landlines to contact these residents.
“The whole goal is to figure out what the mode of communication that gets us to the person that we need to reach,” he said. “For some people it will be regular phones, some will be cell phones, some will be through text messages, some will be online Tweeting or on Facebook. If we’re not getting the information to you, give us the proper way to get it to you.”
He also said the city does not plan to overuse it. Again, it will only be used in emergency circumstances.
“I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s them again,’” said Avedisian. “We’ll try to make sure that it has an important nature so that it doesn’t become too common. The best thing for us is that now we’ll have an ability to say, ‘OK. This is the way that they want us to contact them.”
Additionally, said Avedisian, he and Armstrong are pleased that people are calling to tell them what a great idea they think it is. Residents are also telling Armstrong to make sure they reach out to particular citizens who have unlisted numbers.
While the city has had a special needs directory for quite sometime, the new system has encouraged people to call and let the administration know that other people need to be placed on this directory. During storms, someone who might need dialysis, for example, will be taken care of.
“People are now calling in and saying, ‘This person wouldn’t be on any of your lists. You should call and get them registered,’” Avedisian said. “Not only is it a technology to make it right for people but a way for us to show people that we care. Using the technology to our benefit is really helpful.”