Pitkin County tests alert system
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – A recent test of Pitkin County’s telephone alert system suggests residents will have to be proactive if they want notification in the event of an emergency.
The test sent calls to 5,300 phone lines around the county and in areas beyond its borders, but more than 50 percent of them went unanswered, and no message could be left for the recipient, according to the county.
If the call reached a voicemail system, a test message was left, and the call was considered a success. But if the phone line was attached to a fax machine, for example, or went answered and no message could be left, the call was not considered completed.
“If you’re not there to answer it, you’re not receiving the alert,” said county Sheriff Joe DiSalvo. “If there’s anything that surprised me, it’s that there are that many phone lines out there that aren’t hooked into a voice machine.
“I’m really glad we did this test because it brought this to light.”
The county is urging residents to remove hurdles to receiving alerts by installing telephone answering machines and disabling caller-ID blocking – two main reasons that calls were blocked. To help address the situation, the identification of the caller for an alert call will be changed from a phone number; it will instead read, “Emergency alert,” DiSalvo said.
The county contracts with Twenty First Century Communications for telephone-alert-system services. The actual conducting of the test – sending out calls to predetermined areas – produced encouraging results in terms of the ability to place emergency calls to select regions, according to the county. It was on the receiving end that the effort often came up short.
Among the other hurdles to successful completion of a call, the system doesn’t work with IP or PBX phone lines; residents are urged to check with their phone service carrier to find out what type of phone line they have.
In addition, the county has been encouraging citizens to sign up for Pitkin Alerts at http://www.pitkinalert.com in order to receive alerts via email, text messages and pages.
Some citizens have heeded that advice, according to Mark Gamrat, county communications director.
“There has definitely been a big increase in sign-ups in the past couple of weeks,” he said.
Still, he estimated only about 2,500 people are signed up to receive Pitkin Alerts out of a county of population of roughly 17,000.
The push to both test the telephone alert system and encourage people to sign up for Pitkin Alerts came as wildfire danger this spring and summer escalated. County officials wanted to make sure evacuation orders could be delivered in the event of an emergency.
The phone system test sent calls to various areas, including Aspen’s West End, Snowmass Village, Woody Creek, Missouri Heights, the Fryingpan Valley and Crystal Valley/Marble areas. There was a 95 percent completion rate in some areas, according to the county, but the overall completion rate was much lower.
The county may pursue a system upgrade with more exact mapping capabilities, according to DiSalvo. It would allow emergency calls to be placed to more exact areas – a block or even a single residence, for example, he said.
Whether the message is successfully delivered, though, depends on a citizen making sure their land line can receive and record it, or making alternative arrangements, DiSalvo noted.
“It really is up to the users to make sure they’re set up for a system that works for them,” he said.
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