CRESA to test new emergency alert system Thursday

Clark County’s new system set to take effect in spring

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian staff writer

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The Clark County agency responsible for dispatching emergency responders and keeping the public in the loop about disruptive goings-on in the community will be testing out its new alert system Thursday.

For the new system, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency has so far partnered with the county and seven cities within its boundaries. It has been in the works for more than a year, said Eric Frank, the agency’s emergency management coordinator.

The test will send alerts to about 1,000 La Center residents and 9,000 others throughout the county who previously registered with the agency’s former partner, according to CRESA. La Center is serving as the main testing area, Frank said in an email.

For those who subscribe to the service, CRESA keeps them informed about things like encroaching wildfires, lost or endangered people, hazardous waste spills and, of course, law enforcement activity.

So what’s new with the latest version of the alert system?

CRESA says county communities will have tools to share urgent alerts, as well as non-emergency notifications. The latter alerts may include information about utility services, road closures and community news.

“Each city will have access to data related to their community based on information as users sign up, if they sign up for those community alerts,” Frank said. That data will be used to send out the non-emergency stuff.

The new system also provides much more freedom for how the users receive alerts. Text alerts are available with the old system, but it is somewhat limited in how data is used and how relevant it is to certain communities.

Now, the agency has access to easier mapping technology, Frank said. There’s also a mobile app that will let CRESA send out alerts from a cellphone, he said.

Traditional land-line home and business phone numbers were automatically added to the new system. Alerts can still come through those phones, although Frank said fewer and fewer people are using the method.

“Seventy-three percent of the calls we receive from 911 are from mobile devices, and we are unable to receive that information the same way we do as landlines. The old system along with the new system will still make phone calls to those numbers we have in the system if that is the only (phone line) for a known address or the individual chooses that as their primary method of receiving alerts,” Frank said.

A significant amount of time over the past six to eight months has been spent importing existing data into usable sets and training employees and community officials.

The current system will stay in place until early spring, once CRESA has ensured the new system is working the way it wants it to. Residents won’t notice any big changes over the next few months.

People wanting to sign up can visit ClarkPublicAlerts.org. Subscribers “can choose to receive alerts for locations of interest by email, text message, or multiple phone numbers,” the agency said in a release.