CLEARFIELD – Cell phones today are not the monstrosities of two decades ago. These days, they e-mail, check stock prices and allow their users to play games.
But a new addition to Clearfield County’s 911 system will allow emergency responders to be alerted in a new way, and soon, county residents might be able to opt to receive similar notices.
The Clearfield County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve an agreement with MIS Sciences Corp. of Burbank, Calif., Tuesday that will allow for electronic notification of emergencies to be sent to handheld devices.
Josh Quigley, director of the Clearfield Emergency Management Agency, said the messages can be sent to pagers and cell phones in the event of an emergency.
“Anywhere you have cell phone service, you could receive your calls,” he said, speaking of the term used to describe emergency responders being summoned to an event.
Quigley added that the eAlert system could save some of the county’s volunteer emergency responders money because smaller fire companies sometimes require that volunteers purchase their own pagers at a cost of $350 each. With eAlert, he said, the nine out of 10 people he knows with a cell phone would not have to buy a pager if they were in that situation.
He did note that people would have to check with their individual cellular telephone carriers to determine what, if any, charges would apply. Before signing up, emergency responders will also have to agree that they understand that charges could apply.
Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken said, “It’s a lot cheaper than buying their own pager.”
The system, which has the ability to send out 15,000 messages per minute, or about 1 million messages per hour, will cost the county $225 per month.
With this type of capability, Quigley said, “The uses are endless.”
Clearfield County Commissioner Mike Lytle said he can see the use of this type of service, especially after 32 people were killed and 25 injured during an April shooting at Virginia Tech.
Quigley said the same system is already in use at several colleges and universities to provide instant information in the event of emergencies.
But, Quigley said there are more benign uses for such a system. It could alert all county employees that offices are closed, for example, due to snow.
“It seems like a step in the right direction,” Lytle said.
Quigley said future plans for the systems could include such alerts being sent to residents and/or schools.
Responders can begin to sign up for the service as soon as the EMA tests it and assures that it is working. A notice will be posted on the Clearfield EMA Web site to direct emergency workers to sign up for the messages.