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May 4, 2013

Otsego approves emergency alert service

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County will be getting a new way to instantly send emergency messages to the cell phones of citizens.

And cell phone users won’t even have to sign up for the service. If they are in range of the cellular tower distributing the message, the holder of the cell phone will get the text message on their phone’s display screen.

County representatives this week decided to take advantage of a $27,000 Homeland Security and Emergency Management grant that will fund the program for three years.

The technology was recommended by Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, the chairman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, and Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr.

Devlin said he backs Reverse 911 because it can reach all the people with cell phones in a given geographical area, and provide them with crucial information about a tornado warning, a mass casualty incident, a toxic materials spill or other emergency.

“Certainly, during the summer, we have a huge influx of tourists here,” said Devlin.

Several representatives, including Board Chairwoman Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, said they were concerned that Reverse 911 would duplicate another emergency data program known as NY-Alert. But Devlin said the new program has fewer limitations than NY-Alert. The latter program, he said, only sends messages to citizens who have signed up in advance for the messages and emails.

Reverse 911 will be overseen by the county’s Office of Emergency Services, and the Sheriff’s Department will participate as well, Devlin said.

Only a small number of senior management employees of the county would be authorized to direct that messages be sent out through the system, the sheriff said. The system could be remotely accessed by those designated individuals by using secret passwords, and there would be internal measures to keep the system from being hacked.

Oswego County, according to its web site, has used Reverse 911 to warn citizens about impending aerial spraying of pesticides.

Powers told his fellow representatives that the technology could enhance public safety during such calamities as the recent bombings that killed three people and wounded scores of others at the Boston Marathon last month.

After the three-year trial period, the program will be re-evaluated, Devlin said. A launch date for the program is not yet known.

The NY-Alert program provides similar emergency information. New Yorkers who wish to sign up its messages may access information about the program at www.nyalert.gov.