Auto-dialing system good move by City Hall

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2008

Properly managed, the City of Vicksburg’s latest investment in technology could enhance safety and save money.

Yes, we have had something of a hey-day commenting about many of the city’s purchases — notably the $200,000 spent for a computer program that determines which streets need work. Seems like that task could be handled for less. But the cost of the new purchase is only about 50 cents per citizen during the first year and less thereafter. And communication in emergencies can be essential.

For $15,000, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen will lease from the Florida-based Emergency Communications Network Inc. software that can be programmed with citizens’ cell or wired phone numbers.

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“This system is capable of calling everybody in the city in 3 to 4 minutes to notify them of an emergency situation,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

And we do have emergencies. One Christmas not too many years ago a main natural gas feeder line was broken. Police cars and fire trucks went street-by-street spreading the news, which included the potential for explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning. And more recently, the city’s water utility lost pressure.

There are other times — derailments, chemical spills, gas leaks, threatening weather — when getting word out immediately can be important. And it’s far less expensive than cruising 40 to 50 vehicles with PA systems up and down streets or hoping warning sirens can be heard.

Citizens who don’t want to enroll don’t have to enroll. Those who do can start signing up this week. And the city is hoping to have the service in place by Jan. 29. When registering, residents will be asked what types of warnings they want. And the software can also delineate areas in which people are to receive automated calls. Phones won’t ring on North Washington Street if there’s flash-flooding in a south Vicksburg neighborhood.

This is a new public service that promises to really serve the public.