AlertSense software enables sheriff to communicate with citizens, one on one
MANTI—The Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office is implementing a software program called AlertSense designed to enable it to communicate with residents in ways it never has before, including one on one.
The system serves as the single platform, or interface, for sending outbound 911 calls to landlines in a designated location and for activating a federal system known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that makes it possible to send a text message to all cell phones in a given area.
Beyond that, with AlertSense, the Sheriff’s Office can send alerts by email and/or text to people who sign up for them. Or citizens can download a free app that enables them to receive the same alerts, with maps and a little more detail, on their iPhones or other Internet-enabled devices.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Sgt. Justin Albee, who is in charge of emergency management for the Sheriff’s Office.
“The end result will be what we want, which is being able to reach everybody because there are very few people who don’t have a cell phone.”
The Sheriff’s Office, especially the countywide dispatch center, has done a lot of work over more than a year to get AlertSense installed and working on its computers, Albee says. Dispatcher Sheila Bringhurst and Neil Johnson have gone through federally required training on the protocols for using IPAWS.
The AlertSense app is now downloaded on all cell phones carried by sheriff’s deputies, Search and Rescue volunteers, and mayors and county commissioners in the county.
The next step, Albee says, involves everybody else in Sanpete County. The Sheriff’s Office is launching a campaign to get rank-and-file citizens to go to the AlertSense website and sign up for email and/or text alerts, or to go the Google Play or the Apple App Store and download the free myAlerts mobile app.
The most basic level of participation is “public signup.” Anyone can go to http://public.alertsens.com/SignUp. When you click the button that says “Sign Up,” you’ll be asked to enter your name, street address, city and state, and any phones you want to use to receive alerts.
Everyone who signs up will receive alerts about crimes or imminent danger near where they live, evacuations, hazardous materials incidents, and Amber Alerts about missing children.
Each individual has the option of receiving severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service. You can designate the types of weather alerts you want, such as severe thunderstorms, winter storm warnings and earthquakes.
The next option is signing up, but also downloading the myAlerts app. If you do that, rather than potentially receiving text-message alerts mixed in with other text messages, all alerts will come through the app.
You can choose two formats for receiving your messages. One format is like an email inbox. You open a list of alerts and click on the alert you want to read. The other format is a map with dots on it representing the location the alerts are about. Conceivably, there could be a dot on Ephraim and a dot on Skyline Drive. You click on a dot to read an alert.
One extra feature of the myAlerts app is the ability to designate several locations of interest to you anywhere in the United States and receive alerts sent out by authorities in those locations.
The AlertSense materials give the example of a man in Boise, who designated his home in Boise, his mother’s home in St. George, his daughter’s home at her college in California, his office in Boise and his son’s school in Boise.
After setting up the locations on his app, he received a severe weather alert for St. George, where his mother lives.
As people sign up, either for emails and text, or download the app, there is another potential, Albee says.
The Sheriff’s Office can define groups to receive specific alerts. That’s what the office has already done with its own deputies, with Search and Rescue volunteers, and with mayors and commissioners. The office is the process of setting up a group of all volunteers with the Manti Ambulance Association and the Gunnison Valley Ambulance Association.
Once a group is defined, the dispatch center can send a message to everyone in the group. And the system is two-way. Members of the group text back and everyone in the group can read the texts.
As more people participate in public sign-up or download the app, it could be possible to send community messages to everyone in a given town. For instance, Manti City could have the Sheriff’s Office send out a message about a boil order for drinking water or even a reminder about the schedule for the Fourth of July celebration.
“That’s really the carrot to get city governments on board,” Albee says.
Although citizens need to sign up or download the app to get all the messages and alerts, AlertSense also gives the Sheriff’s Office the capability, in more serious situations, to reach everybody, whether they sign up or not.
With AlertSense, the dispatch center can define a geographic area and send a reverse 911 call to every landline in the area. The call is a recorded message informing people about a dangerous situation.
The Sheriff’s Office actually made such a call about a month ago to about 300 households and businesses in Mt. Pleasant after a mountain lion was spotted in the city.
Finally, if a situation is serious enough, the AlertSense system enables the Sheriff’s Office to send out an IPAWS message to cell phones within designated geographic parameters.
“You reach every cell phone that’s hitting a tower in a specific area,” Albee says. “We pick the towers and location.”
In an emergency, the Sheriff’s Office will still use its Twitter account, Facebook page, the radio and, as needed, the national Emergency Alert System (EAS), which sends information out on radio and television, Albee says.
But AlertSense is an important additional tool for getting information out, quickly and directly, to the people most affected by an emergency situation.
“Public information is really the crux of why we have it,” he says.