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Pierce County to study robo-calls after Lakewood residents complain

Post by David Wickert on Nov. 25, 2009 at 2:26 pm with 2 Comments »
November 25, 2009 3:23 pm

Pierce County will develop new guidelines for how and when to use its telephone emergency notification system after some Lakewood residents complained about phone calls last week.

About 11,000 homes in the city received automated calls after a 50-year-old deaf and disabled man went missing from a health care facility (he was later found). Some residents complained about the timing of the calls. Some came at 11:30 p.m. last Thursday, others at 6:30 a.m. Friday.

The county announced today a public safety work group will review how the county uses its Target Notification System, which allows notification of residents within certain areas when an emergency arises.

Steve Bailey, director of the county’s emergency management department, said the county has used the system hundreds of times to warn citizens of floods, hazardous materials, missing children and other problems. He said the county has had “great results.”

“However, given the events of last week, it is prudent and timely that we sit down with representatives of our police and fire departments and our E-911 call centers and agree on some general principals of how and when the system will be used,” Bailey said.

You can read the full press release below.

(Note: corrects that Sheriff’s Department made last week’s request)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 25, 2009

Pierce County is organizing a public safety work group to develop guidelines on the use of the telephone emergency notification system that quickly delivers messages to thousands of residents.

The Department of Emergency Management is leading the effort in response to feedback received as a result of the search for a missing man in Lakewood last week. At the request of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the county used its Intrado Target Notification System to call about 11,000 homes with a recorded message in an attempt to locate the man, who has serious medical and mental issues and went missing from his health care facility. The calls went out around 11:30 p.m. Thursday and at 6 a.m. Friday. The man was found early Friday.

“We have used this tool several hundred times over the last several years, to warn citizens about floods, hazardous material releases, missing children and medically fragile adults. And we have had great results,” said Steve Bailey, director of the Department of Emergency Management. “However, given the events of last week, it is prudent and timely that we sit down with representatives of our police and fire departments and our E-911 call centers and agree on some general principals of how and when the system will be used.”

The Target Notification Software enables emergency notification of residents within prescribed areas determined by incident commanders. The software accesses the 911 database to reach every household in a “reverse 911″ emergency notification. The area may be as isolated as a neighborhood or as large as a city.

The new work group also will be charged with developing approaches to educate Pierce County residents on how this important emergency information notification system works. Last week’s event marked the first time Lakewood residents received calls from the county’s automated system.

“This ability to alert our citizens to an ongoing public safety issue is an important and powerful tool that has saved lives and property,” Bailey said. “Every emergency situation is different, so flexibility is a requirement. But some guidance and uniformity may be helpful to our field emergency incident commanders.”

The Sheriff’s Department has had several successful outcomes in the implementation of Target Notification:

Nov. 11: In the South Hill area, the Sheriff’s Department requested the “reverse 911″ notification for a lost 16-year-old at 8:01 p.m. The calls went to 6,764 phones, and the young woman was found because of the calls at 10:04 p.m.

Oct. 22: In the Spanaway area, the Sheriff’s Department requested calls in a 40-square-block area to help find a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who had wandered off and was not dressed for the elements. Calls went out at 11:35 a.m, and a caller who received the message found the man, who was suffering from hypothermia.

Jan. 7: During the severe flooding events of last January, thousands of calls were made to households threatened by the flooding of the Puyallup, Carbon and White Rivers. Some of these calls were evacuation notices.

Contact: Sheri Badger, Pierce County Emergency Management, 253-798-2204; or Hunter George, Pierce County Communications director, 253-798-6606 or hgeorge@co.pierce.wa.us

Leave a comment Comments → 2
  1. S_Emerson says:

    Question – what about those who only have cell phones? Can they sign up for TNS notification?

  2. The life of one scared kid doesn’t matter that much to the people in Lakewood. How about 2 or 3?

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