Pitkin County to test new emergency alert system | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County to test new emergency alert system

Pitkin County officials plan to test a new cellphone-based emergency alert system in a little less than two weeks.

It is the exact same federal system used in Hawaii that sent out a false alarm Jan. 13 that warned of an incoming ballistic missile and urged residents to “seek immediate shelter.”

“It will be like the Hawaii test,” said Alex Burchetta, director of operations at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. “But our message will be far less terrifying.”

The test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System will occur in Pitkin County on March 1, probably at 3 p.m., said Brett Loeb, director of the county’s emergency communications center. The test is to ensure officials know how to use the system and that it functions properly, Burchetta and Loeb said.

The system, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a nationwide IP-based system that, in this case, sends out alerts to wireless devices by targeting certain cell towers in a particular area, Burchetta said.

Pitkin County officials will be able to target just one cell tower or all towers in a particular area to send out word of an emergency to people’s cellphones, he said. For example, just the Aspen and Snowmass Village areas could be targeted if necessary.

There is no particular trigger for such an alert, and officials won’t use the system wantonly, though floods, fires or a dangerous person on the loose could prompt such a warning, they said.

“It will be something with a significant effect on the community,” Burchetta said.

The federal system is better equipped to reach all the people in one area than the county’s current Pitkin Alert system, which requires people to sign up for all manner of community alerts, he said. No one will have to sign up to receive alerts from the new system, Burchetta said.

Cellphones will receive the new alert exactly like they currently receive Amber Alerts, he said.

“You could be standing in City Market and 100 phones will go off at once,” Burchetta said.