CodeRED Gave Alert For Snow

Published 4:04 pm Thursday, February 23, 2012

FARMVILLE – The Town of Farmville's new emergency alert system, CodeRED, proved its mettle Sunday, sending out phone, email, and text messages warning about the impending snowstorm.

The Town switched to the CodeRED system, favored by many Virginia localities, last month.

“It's basically like a reverse 911 system. It will call everyone we have in the 911 (system), anybody who signed up on line or called me and signed up,” Ashley Atkins, GIS Manager for the Town, said Wednesday. “And we'll use it for emergencies. The snow. Missing persons. That kind of thing.”

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Residents and businesses within the town and Prince Edward County can continue to sign up for the emergency alert system on line ( or by telephone (392-2114).

“It has to be inside Prince Edward County,” Ms. Atkins explained. “We get into too much legal issues if people from Cumberland or Buckingham (sign up). But we can do the Farmville portion of Cumberland.”

The Town contracted with Emergency Communication Network (ECN) to license its CodeRED high-speed notification and weather warning system. It enables Town officials to “quickly deliver messages to a targeted area or to the entire Town of Farmville and Prince Edward County area,” accord to a ECN press release.

“We used it this weekend with the snow,” Town Manager Gerald Spates noted. “Everybody that signed up, we sent them a text message and phone call.”

Ms. Atkins said the system can make 6,000 calls within 10 to 15 seconds.

“We'll call in and record a message and then send it out. And it will call everybody within 10, 15 seconds,” she said.

The Town's dispatchers can also access the system.

“I called dispatch the other night I asked them to put on there the predictions of snow,” Spates said, “so that people who may not be looking at the news at least they'll get the word.”

The town manager was glad he made the call, which resulted in subsequent communication to residents signed up for the service.

“The way the snow started off, it wasn't anything,” Spates said, “and then…”

The town saw 5.5 inches of snow rapidly accumulate.

“We do have the weather warnings. When the National Weather Service issues a weather warning it will automatically call everybody,” Ms. Atkins noted. “But with the snow it wasn't in a weather warning. It was just a notice and it doesn't send that out so that's something we have to do ourselves.”

And they did.

CodeRED uses “all formats” of instant communication, Ms. Atkins notes.

Text message. Email. Phone calls.

Make your pick.

“People can go and sign up and they can say they just want text messages or they just want phone calls or just want emails,” Ms. Atkins said. “They can tell exactly how they want it.”

Spates is quite happy the Town made the switch to CodeRED.

“It's a whole lot better than the previous system. Everybody's gone to it,” he said regarding the system's popularity among other localities.

As with anything, of course, the town manager notes “the information's only as good as what you have in it. I encourage people-they may have kids at home-to put all their numbers on there and they'll be up to date on what's going on.”

Residential and business contact information must be entered separately, Spates and Ms. Atkins stress.

The CodeRED system is so sophisticated that in addition to town-wide alerts it can be block-specific. One block on a specific street.

“We also have it set up so we have a mapping interface so that we can highlight certain areas,” Ms. Atkins explained. “So if we have a water leak on First Avenue we can highlight First Avenue and call just those residents and not have to call the whole town.”

Spates notes that “everybody in the 911 system will get called” but urges residents to include their cell phones and work phones in the system, as well as the cell phones of their children.

There is a selection of warnings from which to choose and the phone numbers, texts, and emails will only be sent about emergency situations.

“I think people were worried that we'd use it frivolously, that we would use it at all times day and night for just about anything. It is not. It's used in emergencies,” Ms. Atkins said. “When we have four inches of snow, people need to know that. Especially if you're not sitting watching TV or listening to the radio.

“We're not going to use it,” she said, “just to send out a message about…”

“Like there's a recreation program,” Spates added, “or a ballgame or something…And we don't share the information.”

“I don't even see the information when they put in a phone number,” Ms. Atkins noted, “unless they give it to me.”

Nor will the Town send out test messages.

“That's what a lot of people that called are worried about,” Ms. Atkins said.

The alerts will only be for real emergencies.