County adopts new mass notification system
New vendor offers improvements
— Cecil County Department of Emergency Services has switched its mass notification system, a move that has Michelle Lloyd, emergency preparedness manager, stoked.
“This is a game changer in public safety,” she said Monday.
Regroup Mass Notification, based in San Francisco, replaces CodeRED, a similar system the county initiated in December 2013. Lloyd said Regroup costs about $10,000 less per year than the former system and comes with other improvements.
“We’ll have faster mass notification with the push of a button,” she said.
Another advantage of the
new system is that the county will own the data whereas any information stored under CodeRED was dumped, Lloyd said. In this day of personal data breach fears, Lloyd said residents can be assured that their information will only be accessed by Regroup and herself.
“There will be no thirdparty marketing,” she said.
Corey Wodarz, sales executive for Regroup, said the county also now has access to IPAWS, or the Integrated Public Alert Warning System, which sends out a mass communication to everyone within a certain area. People don’t have to be registered because the system can reach people through the cell tower, he said, noting that the system isn’t for standard emergency messages.
“Sending an IPAWS would be a dire situation,” Wodarz said Tuesday.
Such a situation recently occurred when FEMA used IPAWS to catch the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings. Information that led to the Sept. 19 arrest of Ahmed Khan Rahami came from the IPAWSgenerated broadcast sent by federal officials to every cellphone in both states. Rahami is accused of setting off explosive devices that injured 30 people.
While the system is already in place, Lloyd said fortunately there has been no need to use Regroup technology.
“At some point I will test it,” she said.
Residents can sign up now by going to the county website at www.ccgov.org and clicking on the Regroup icon. Those with landline telephones are already in the system. Figuring that about 70 percent of the county has a traditional home phone, Lloyd is targeting those with cellphones to register. She acknowledged some homes may rely solely on cellphones.
Regroup has high functionality, allowing Lloyd to send messages specific to a certain area. For example, this means only residents in downtown Port Deposit would get flood warnings if the danger is only in that waterfront town.
“We worked more handin-hand with planning and zoning to do the mapping,” Lloyd said.
Cecil County’s GIS mapping is integrated into the system so the target audience can be precise.
On the other hand, notifications like the ones dispatched during the blizzard in January 2016 would be distributed countywide.
Another benefit to the new system is the technology required to compose and send messages.
“I can go to a laptop and draw a map around that target area ... or I can push out a message from my phone,” she said.
Also, she said the system can be used internally to notify county employees about public safety or security issues.
Although she is happy with the system now, Lloyd is eagerly waiting for the chance to use a coming upgrade.
“We’ll have a system of icons and images that have been approved by (FEMA),” she said.
The symbols will be universally understandable by anyone, regardless of their native language. Those should be in place by January.
The new system also interfaces better with social media platforms, allowing for unlimited wording in a text message, but also the ability to attach documents through Facebook and Twitter.
“I’m really excited about it,” Lloyd said.
Cecil County Department of Emergency Services has switched its mass notification system to Regroup. The new system is easier to use and costs $10,000 less each year than the former platform.