May 24, 2010 By Russell Nichols
In the case of an emergency, local officials in Cameron County, Texas, want to warn residents ahead of time.
To do so, the county implemented the Reverse 911 emergency notification system, designed to improve countywide alerts about severe weather, hazardous material incidents, natural disasters, fires and public health threats.
Managed by the Cameron County Emergency Communication District (CCECD), emergency management coordinators believe the technology will expedite public safety responses in Cameron County, and help residents avoid the common problems that plague cities during catastrophes.
"It's always been a problem in the past, similar to what Houston went through with Ike," said Carlos Acevedo, CCECD's director of communications, referring to the 2008 hurricane that ravaged the Gulf Coast. "They didn't have a system in place and there was congestion and people running out of gas. We want to try to prevent that."
The system itself is not new, and typical users include law enforcement, fire/EMS departments and emergency management agencies. It is mostly used to alert the public, mobilize response teams and community policing efforts.
The technology reverses the 911 emergency call service and instead, an automated system calls residents to inform them about an emergency or potential life-threatening situation. Cameron County, Acevedo said, purchased one system and a backup system for $200,000, funded by the 911 service fees.
"Since the county judge will be responsible," he said, "this is just another tool he will use at his disposal to help the process come about in an orderly fashion."
The Web-based system combines 911 data and digital maps. The newest enhancement is a self-registration portal, where residents can choose to receive notifications via cell, voice over Internet protocol and other wireless devices.
"More and more people are getting rid of their landlines," said Linda Young, marketing communications manager for Temecula, Calif.-based PlantCML, the system's developer. "That is affecting the public safety databases. By allowing people to self-register, they'll be able to receive those notifications regardless of the 911 center's data."
At this time, Cameron County's system database contains only listed landline telephones. "CAMERON 911" will appear on the telephone's Caller ID. With two on-premise systems and remote access to the hosting service, "public safety officials are fully prepared to communicate with responders, local residents and others in all kinds of contingencies," said Tami Timperio, vice president of marketing for PlantCML.
The deployment in Cameron County comes at a time when most Americans are not fully prepared in the event of a natural disaster, according to a new national survey by insurer Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA).
Of the survey respondents, less than 22 percent said they felt fully prepared to handle a disaster. More than one-fifth of households (22.7 percent) said they weren't prepared at all.
"Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and other disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, as we recently saw with the devastating floods in Tennessee," Madelyn Flannagan, IIABA vice president of agent development, education and research said in a release. "Lives and property are saved when people know what to do before, during and after a disaster."