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Ref: Alert system in Texas goes live

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Texas City emergency alert system goes live today
12:08 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 2, 2007
By TJ Aulds / 11 News
On March 23, 2005 the sirens wailed, the alert updates rolled across the screen of the cityís cable access TV channel and regular updates were aired on the cityís low powered radio station.

Still Texas City emergency dispatchers were overwhelmed the day a series of explosions rocked the BP Texas City refinery. Not so much by calls for help as there were thousands of calls from people wanting to know what was going on.

That, said Texas Cityís Director of Homeland Security Bruce Clawson, is not what the 911 system was set up to do. At times of emergency dispatchers and the emergency crews they are directing have little time to be information operators.

A new system goes on line Thursday that Clawson hopes will alleviate that problem.

Also online
Texas City alert system registration

For nearly two decades, the city of Texas City has relied on the Community Awareness and Emergency Response system (CAER) to alert residents of potential dangers in the community.

At the heart of the alert system is a series of sirens located throughout the city. When an incident such as a chemical release or fire at one of the local petrochemical facilities is extreme enough to be of a concern to those who live and work in Texas City, the sirens sound.

Those sirens are supposed to alert people to go inside, close their doors and turn on their TV set to the cityís municipal cable channel or the low powered AM radio station for updates on the situation.

Houston broadcast outlets such as KTRH radio and 11 News will broadcast information on the incident.

For years, though residents have complained of not being able to hear the sirens. And even then many do not have cable and the city run radio stationís signal is so weak it is hard to tune in.

Thatís when the calls to emergency dispatchers start to flood the 911 system.

And because dispatchers are unable to tell the difference between an informational call and one that is indeed an emergency, the staff of three who operates the cityís 911 system is spending more time as information sources than focusing on their jobs of getting emergency crews where they are needed.

The new system, which goes live Wednesday afternoon, adds another layer to the way the city communicates emergency information to its residents.

George Fuller, the cityís assistant director of homeland security, said the Connect-CTY system includes a phone contact alert as well as e-mail and text messaging capabilities.

The city had in place a limited phone tree alert system before, but only those who registered for the alerts where actually included.

With the new alert system, every land phone line in Texas City is automatically included in the phone call list said Fuller. So even if you have an unregistered phone number and have never applied to be included in the cityís alert system the next time an incident occurs at one of the plants you will get a phone call said Fuller.

But, if a resident wants to receive a text message, e-mail or a call to his or her mobile phone they will have to register. The registration process is simple and can be done online said Fuller.

The system verifyís that the person who registers does so from a legitimate Texas City address. The system is limited however to just one registration per household or address.

That may be restrictive for businesses or large families who have several people who wanted to be alerted.

The system is not too dissimilar from systems used in Deer Park or Freeport, although Texas Cityís Connect-CTY is believed to be the first in the region to combine all of its existing alert systems within the emergency alert system.

Fuller said too the system could be used to target specific areas of town when an incidentís impact may be limited in scope.

It is also not reserved for emergency incidents such as refinery fires, power outages or hurricane evacuation calls.

Residents can be updated on major road closures due to accidents or construction projects or even community reminders or public announcements for activities such as the cityís annual Fun Fest or weather related cancellations can be updated via the system said Fuller. It will also be used to issue Amber Alerts or other notices of missing people.

It could even be used to alert certain neighborhoods of police activity such as a search for a suspect so that residents will stay in doors and secure.

All with hopes of keeping people from calling 911 when all it is they seek is the 411.

© 2007 KHOU-TV, L.P.

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