Perhaps it was a stroke of good luck, or a case of good timing, but Clatsop County has found itself in the position of being the test bed for a company specializing in a reverse 911 calling system.
An emergency notification via telephone system was something that the sheriffs department had on its wish list for this year. Lo and behold, a company offering such a service has offered its system free of charge for a three-year trial period.
The system will be capable of calling up to 16 homes and businesses at one time within a designated area, alerting the receiving end of a coming or current emergency. It will cycle through the phone numbers in the designated area until all have been alerted. Pre-recorded or customized messages can reach anywhere from a one-block radius to the entire county, depending on where the message needs to go.
Chief Deputy Paul Williams of the sheriffs department said officials can activate the system from an outside computer by using a password, and the system can transform typed messages into computerized spoken recordings.
Seaside, which had plans of getting its own similar system, will likely get on board and take advantage of the offer also, said city Manager Mark Winstanley.
"Well see how it works. If it takes care of what we need, then well stay with it," Winstanley said. The city had already done some research and intended to buy a system as part of its tsunami preparedness measures.
The County Commissioners signed an agreement with SurfSimple Jan. 24 during its meeting in Seaside. Williams of the sheriffs department said the company approached the county in hopes of making it a model for other potential customers in the Pacific Northwest.
The county will be responsible for preparation costs such as running phone lines to the Emergency Operations Center, where the system will be housed. The county will also be responsible for the subscription costs of the phone lines. The system is expected to be ready to use in a few months.
Startup costs will be about $10,480, according to the county staff report. Initial costs for a system from another company would have been more than $90,000. The money for the phone lines and database compilation fees will come from the departments special projects fund, which has nearly enough to cover it in projected savings for the 2006-07 fiscal year.
Williams said the deal has an additional advantage for being a model region.
"Whatever new technology comes along, well get to try it here first without it costing an arm and a leg," he said.
Another feature lets cell phone users enter their number into the database, and Williams said the company is working on technology that can identify and call cell phones that are in the alert area.
Emergency messages can be tailored to include boil water alerts, epidemic notifications, school closures, missing children alerts and many others. The system also lets the dispatcher choose a specific area, so that the message doesnt "notify Jewell for Warrenton emergencies, or Warrenton for Jewell emergencies," Sheriff Tom Bergin told the commissioners.
Williams said the department will test the system once a month on a rotated basis to ensure it works throughout the county.
He does not anticipate much of a problem training the staff how to use the system because it uses a Microsoft Windows platform, a program of which most of the staff is already familiar.
Even though Seaside will join with the rest of the county, Winstanley said its too early to spend the money on another project that would have gone to a reverse 911 system. The costs would have come out of a $500,000 legislative appropriation passed in 2005 for the citys tsunami preparedness. A separate Seaside system would have included Cannon Beach and Gearhart, both of which operate with the Seaside dispatch center.
Winstanley said the city will wait to see how the county system works, and changes in the preparedness expenditures will have to be approved by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.