Grand County fills gaps in its emergency communications system
May 15, 2008
In the event of a disaster, it is now possible to receive emergency alerts by cell phone in Grand County.
Landsides, rockslides, hazardous materials, blizzards, disease outbreaks and wildfire.
They’re all possible in the high country, and in the event of any such emergency, people want to know as much information as possible so they can react safely.
The Grand County agency coordinating public emergency information has made strides in the last few months, finding solutions to components that just a year ago were missing, such as a cell phone version of reverse 9-1-1 and a way to know which citizens in the county may need special help in an evacuation.
But no emergency evacuation or widespread communication effort is possible without the participation of individuals in the community, says Mike Stern, manager of the Grand County Office of Emergency Management.
What is set up is a triage of Web access and data bases consisting of Code Red for cell phones, 2-1-1 for individuals with special needs, and http://www.gcemergency.com, a Web site considered the core of the county’s emergency communication.
People need only input their information so emergency officials can send critical, even life-saving, briefings their way.
Code Red for cell phones
“We need people to go to sign up for Code Red service,” Stern said.
Code Red was launched April 23 in Grand County. It’s a system much like Reverse 9-1-1 that can send voice messages to cell phones in the event of an emergency.
Code Red does not replace Reverse 9-1-1; it works parallel to it, Stern said.
While Reverse 9-1-1 is already in place for every land line phone in the county, Code Red is available for cell phones ” and only cell phones.
But for the system to work, cell phone users must input their information into the system.
Cell phone users should go to http://www.gcemergency.com, then under the heading Code Red find the link to the Code Red private registration site for Grand County. Simply fill in the required fields and hit continue.
Two cell phones may be entered per person, meaning a husband and wife can register under one name and each would be contacted in the event of an emergency.
The site provides users the ability to enter more cell phone numbers by filling out a new page. All numbers entered, the original and its alternate, must be cell phone numbers, Stern stressed.
That information is then checked by the Office of Emergency Management for verification that the number is in fact a cell phone number and that the number is connected to a local address. Few people have access to the highly secured site.
Emergency information can be sent to any cell phone that is registered with Code Red, meaning those who only spend weekends in Grand County can register with Code Red as long as they have an in-county address. Even friends who visit from time-to-time may register.
At the time of an emergency, each cell phone will be contacted, even if that cell phone is an out-of-state number.
According to Stern, fewer than 200 people have signed up for Code Red so far, a system that is deemed the solution to a growing population opting for cellulars over land lines.
At some time when more people are signed up, the office plans to test the system.
Small glitches in the system still exist as well.
“Some firewall security settings don’t like this Web site,” Stern said. If it happens a computer refuses to access the site, it is a problem that needs to be solved with that computer, he said.
Also, Code Red itself checks addresses for verification. If it does not recognize an address, Code Red attempts to solve the problem by cross referencing with other address data. If it is unable to approve the address, however, Code Red ultimately may call the cell phone user to try and solve the problem.
The Grand County Office of Emergency Management was able to contract with the system, used in various areas of the country, by way of a 50 percent matching grant for the first year through the Colorado Division of Emergency Management. The cost of the service is $7,500 per year.
2-1-1 for special needs
A United Way resource phone line in Larimer County has become the solution for reaching special needs individuals throughout Grand County in the event of a major emergency.
In efforts to create a local data base of individuals who may need special assistance ” such as those who can’t drive, those in wheelchairs, bed-ridden individuals, people who need essential medication and those on home oxygen ” United Way’s 2-1-1 is the solution.
The phone number, 211, is set up to provide information about local resources such as food banks, health care, Advocates Assistance, social services and pediatricians.
“It refers people to the right service they’re looking for,” Stern explained.
But now the number provides an added service for Grand County residents, a service that has been active since May 1.
Those who have special needs or those who assist such persons may register with the Grand County Office of Emergency Management by dialing 2-1-1. The United Way operator will gather necessary information about the person with special needs, then forward that information in a secured manner to the Grand County Office of Emergency Management, which will keep a working data base. According to Stern, having a list of persons who may need assistance in emergencies will help to coordinate evacuation plans in the county, filling in unknowns such as the number of vehicles or busses needed and the locations of individuals in need of extra help.
http://www.gcemergency.com for information
Implemented last July, the Web site has become the front line of communication for any major local emergency.
Four EMS captains, Stern and EMS Director Ray Jennings ” personnel in the thick of emergencies that affect whole communities ” are designated to update the site with accurate information for the greater public as soon as necessary information becomes available.
“We want to avoid people calling 9-1-1 to find out what’s going on,” Stern said. Although 9-1-1 remains the place to call in emergencies, “we don’t want all 12,000 residents calling it if there’s smoke in the valley.”
For example, updates on Hot Sulphur Springs’ water problem have been appearing on the Web page to help residents stay informed throughout the crisis. No log-in is necessary.
And the site is poised to be the first place updates are posted. Stern said necessary information will be posted on the Web page even before that same information is sent to Reverse 9-1-1 or Code Red.
As Code Red, 2-1-1 and the Web site secure their niches in Grand County, Stern’s office is also working toward other emergency information outlets, such as roadside message signs, low-power FM radio and weather-alert radio. And the American Red Cross is involved with the agency to plan emergency shelters, supplies and shelter manager training. Four primary shelter locations have been designated: Fraser Elementary, East Grand Middle School, West Grand High School and Grand Lake Elementary School.
“We are continuing to be prepared for all hazards and disasters,” Stern said, “as the face of those hazards is always changing.”
For more information, contact the Grand County Office of Emergency Management at 887-2732.