Warren County Emergency alerts coming in weeks

Published 11:33 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The voluntary CodeRed phone and text alert system for severe weather and other emergencies could be available to all Warren County residents within two weeks after county supervisors agreed to a three-year contract Monday.

Since 2008, the City of Vicksburg has contracted with Florida-based Emergency Communications Network to enact the CodeRed system inside the city.

The contract OK’d Monday expands that concept to all addresses in Warren County. It won’t matter whether people visit the city or county website to register, regardless of where they live or work as long as it’s inside Warren County.

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“It’s our understanding that there will be a community site linked to each’s website,” said Emergency Management Director John Elfer after the deal passed unanimously. “It’ll take about two weeks to do that.”

Registration assistance also will be offered at Emergency Management offices in the courthouse, Elfer said.

The deal binds Warren County to pay $15,625 in the first year, which reflects a discount for the weather warning capability, Elfer said. It jumps to $18,750 the final two years. Still, it’s free for residents to register a cell or land line phone number to receive calls or text messages about tornado warnings, evacuation orders and similar events. An update this month showed 1,241 people inside the city have signed up to receive the alerts.

The cost is to be absorbed with a higher allocation to Elfer’s office in the next general fund and using about half of $6,000 paid to the county annually by Entergy Nuclear to participate in safety drills involving Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

Debate in the past three years among supervisors has centered on cost versus participation. It came to the fore after information that the 16 county-owned sirens erected in the 1980s to warn of nuclear accidents haven’t worked in about two years. No detailed plan exists to remove them. Replacing them would cost at least $75,000, officials have said.

“I think it’s a good system,” board president Bill Lauderdale said, adding participation would increase with more advertising. “The only question and problem that I saw was a lack of participation on a weather warning in the city.”

Elfer said he plans a “media blitz” on radio and in print ads to ratchet up participation.

Once implemented, people may register multiple phone numbers for each address, Elfer said. Thunderstorm or tornado warning calls and texts would be rolled out based on geographical sections under such a warning from the National Weather Service. For other alerts, such as evacuations, the county can be “very specific” with the address-based system.

“For instance, if we had an issue at Eagle Lake that would not require the rest of the county to be notified, we could do that specifically for those addresses we choose to notify,” Elfer said.

Prices on a contract to expand the service into the county rose more than $1,500 since 2010, when the county last studied CodeRed’s Florida-based operator. The city’s emergency management office within the planning department was funded through fiscal 2012 as the city’s official representation during emergencies. Weather warning capability added to Vicksburg’s contract for CodeRed cost the city $10,500 during the addition’s first year and $10,700 for the second.

Each governing body’s system will stay separate from a budget standpoint, Elfer said.

“The city funds their portion, and we’ll fund ours, but it’ll run seamless,” he said.