The Hyper Reach mass notification system is fully operational and already contains the 28,000 “landline” phones in use throughout the county.
Anyone interested in using their cell phone to receive alerts must register their information. In the first 24 hours (Feb. 27-28), 516 people had opted to register with the online program.
Those texts, emails and voicemail messages will have a locally recognizable number, with 706-375-0911 displayed in the caller ID window.
The system is being provided by a FEMA grant as a result of the April 2011 tornadoes that ravaged several Walker County neighborhoods.
Those with disabilities or special needs can indicate that they would need special assistance during an evacuation.
Citizens unable to access the preferred online method may choose to call in to register at the non-emergency 911 operator at 706-375-7810 or at the commissioner’s office 706-638-1437.
The operator will complete a checklist for each person, which will we compiled daily and entered in the database. The checklist will be shredded after entry and county officials will have no further access to the personal information, according to David Ashburn, Walker County coordinator.
Emergency weather situations will be sent via text message and email alerts. This feature will be incredibly important, as the storms of recent years have heightened people’s interest for precautionary reasons. Tornado warnings (not watches) from the National Weather Service will be sent, along with other dangerous conditions like severe thunderstorms that have led to flooding during several previous years.
Interested individuals can sign up for the service at: secure.hyper-reach.com/comsignupw.jsp?id=36981
The online registration does have a terms and conditions agreement that point to a few necessary disclaimers.
Walker County “cannot guarantee 100 percent delivery of any message in a timely manner,” meaning that the system is incumbent upon the capabilities of a person’s chosen cell phone provider, cellular signal strength and other variables beyond the control of county officials.
A frequently suggested secondary precaution for weather alerts is to own a battery-operated weather radio, some of which feature a hand crank as a complete failsafe.
In emergency situations that warrant a voicemail message, special instructions will direct citizens in a course of action during evacuations or other emergencies.
Those voicemail messages are being used sparingly due to the increased cost if the messages went over the allotted annual amount of the provider’s plan.
“If we run over the minimum amount that we’ve contracted, then we have to start paying in blocks to buy more minutes,” Ashburn said. “I can do as much texting and emailing (with the system) as I want for no additional cost.”
County officials will also send out occasional community messages that correspond to an emergency, such as a notification of a specific shelter being opened for evacuees.
“It can also do things like Amber alerts,” Ashburn said.
It will also be used to inform citizens about events such as the annual town hall meetings held by commissioner Bebe Heiskell, according to Ashburn.