For the first time, Callaway County's Emergency Management Center (EOC) Friday morning activated its countywide system providing automated telephone calls informing all county homes and businesses of a tornado watch.
Michelle Kidwell, Callaway County EOC director, said more than 15,000 home phones and businesses in Callaway County received the automated phone calls from the new countywide 24/7 Alert Notification System. Those who signed up for cell phone or text notification also received the alert.
"I have a separate list for schools so they are a high priority. People also can sign up on our Web site for cell phone notification," Kidwell said.
The automated phone calling system was put into operation last Sept. 17 after it was tested.
Kidwell said she plans to activate countywide alerts when the EOC receives a tornado watch for the county from the National Weather Service. Kidwell said tests of the new automated alert notification system last September showed it can take up to two hours for the automated system to make it through all of the home and business phone numbers in Callaway County.
For this reason, Kidwell says she decided to use the system for tornado watches indicating conditions are favorable for a tornado rather than waiting for tornado warnings after one has been spotted because of the time it takes for the automated phone calling system to complete calls to all county telephone numbers. "I am concerned that the alert might not arrive soon enough if we used only a tornado warning alert," Kidwell said.
She said if a tornado or emergency warning is issued for a specific area, she also will send another alert just to that area of the county. "That should go out quickly because of the smaller number of phones that need to be contacted," Kidwell said. The capability of contacting only a small part of the county is useful for other emergency notifications other than weather, she added.
"We decided not to use the alert notification for thunderstorm warnings because they are too numerous and we didn't want people to be bothered with too many automated phone calls," Kidwell said.
Kidwell said she will receive substantial new data from the new countywide 24/7 Alert Notification System to determine how effective it was and how long it took to call all of the phones on Friday.
Kidwell said her staff has been going through the list of telephone numbers to remove fax machine numbers and other inoperative numbers in order to shorten the time for the system to make it through all of the phone numbers listed in the system.
"We started with more than 20,000 phone numbers. I have it cut down to about 15,000 so far," Kidwell said. "The report will tell me how many calls Friday went through and those that did not. That will be useful to us."
The Callaway County Emergency Operations Center reported receiving a few phone calls from area residents saying they had difficulty understanding the automated message.
Kidwell said she plans to change the voice from a female to a male voice. "I think it will be deeper and a little louder so people will be able to understand it better," Kidwell said.
Kidwell said so far only about 55 people have signed up on the EOC Web site to receive automated emergency notification on their cell phones. "It's a great convenience when people are away from home or even people who work in one city and live in another," Kidwell said.
The 24/7 Alert Notification System can be used to deliver not only weather-related emergency information but also any other public safety threats that are deemed appropriate to be issued by the EOC.
The automated alert notification service is provided at no cost.
To sign up for automated cell phone emergency notification, Callaway County residents can call the EOC at 573-592-2480. They also can do so directly on the EOC Web site at www.callawaycountyema.com. On the first page, scroll down to the paragraph starting with the heading of "Callaway County Implements A New Countywide 24/7 Alert" and click on the link for a news release about the new system. At the bottom of the news release is a link to online automatic notification.
A free user account can be set up by providing name, e-mail address, telephone number, answer to security question, and a password. After this information is provided, an individual can receive or edit his user account online.