If a natural disaster or countywide emergency strikes, Herkimer County residents soon will have the option to be notified by a text message, email or even a cellphone call.
The Herkimer County Legislature recently approved using a portion of a $75,468 Homeland Security grant for a more “robust” emergency notification system, rather than the free, state-provided system called NY-ALERT.
County Emergency Services Director Robert Vandawalker said they chose the private system from California-based Everbridge because it was more extensive.
“New York Alert is not robust enough compared to this system,” he said. “There’s actually nine different ways that a person, when they sign up, they can be notified. This is a subscription-based system.”
The program will cost about roughly $45,000, Vandawalker said, for a two-year contract as well as a one-time start up fee.
Vandawalker said the system not only provides emergency alerts, but can be used for different departments and government agencies to alert employees of building closures and meeting notices.
It also can be used for conference calling, he said.
The new system will be able to reach individuals who use their cell phone as their primary contact, Vandawalker said. The county had been working off of a notification system that was only reaching landlines in the event of an emergency.
The county Emergency Services receives more than 16,000 emergency calls from cellphones compared to about 5,000 from landline calls.
With the new system, county residents will be able to sign up for what geographical area they want notifications from, the types of incidents and how they’ll be notified, Vandawalker said.
Ilion Police Chief Tim Parisi said he’s hoping to implement the system for his department’s personnel.
“We would be able to make notification to our personnel more streamlined rather than picking up the phone to call people,” he said, adding he’d like to use it for notification to residents as well.
In Oneida County, Emergency Services Deputy Director Gerald Pedersen said they used to use a private system, but switched to the NY-ALERT to save money.
“For what we’re using it for, for us, it really came down to doing the same thing and not costing us anything,” he said.
He added the county also utilizes the National Weather Service, local media and cellphone towers to broadcast alerts.
While the Homeland Security grant covers the contract with Everbridge for two years, Vandawalker said he’d have to explore funding after that.
Homeland Security grants previously have been used to fund a consolidation study among six county fire departments as well as to purchase radios, holders and microphones for some police departments in the past.
Republican Legislator Bruce Weakley said he wasn’t aware of NY-ALERT and qualified his vote during a recent legislature meeting by stating his vote only was for the two years covered by the grant.
Page 2 of 2 - “I probably would not vote for it unless it’s funded by another grant,” he later said. “I think we should definitely look into the state system.”
Vincent Bono, chairman of the Herkimer County legislature, said if the county had to fund some of the expense, he doesn’t anticipate it costing much.
“As far as bit costs, I don’t think it’s a huge cost,” he said. “For public safety, it’s worth it.”