County approves reverse 911 system

LISBON — The Columbiana County 911 system will be able to send group alerts to residents following action taken at Thursday’s advisory committee meeting.

The committee unanimously voted to recommend county commissioners contract with Inspiron Logistics to incorporate its Wireless Emergency Notification System (WENS) to the county’s 911 system. Commonly known as reverse 911, the system will enable the county to send out emergency alerts to large groups of people should the need arise.

County 911 Director Peggy Clark envisions activating WENS only in emergency situations, such as a tornado sighting, flash flooding or an accident at the nuclear plant in nearby Shippingport, Pa. But she said communities could use it to alert residents for lesser emergencies, such as when there is a water main break.

All landlines that are publicly listed would automatically be enrolled in the alert system, but those with smart phones would have to enroll in the program if they want to receive alerts. Clark said those who have flip phones with texting capability can also receive alerts if they want.

WENS is fully compliant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System), which is capable of sending out mass alerts regardless of whether those in the target area are signed up to receive them.

Clark hopes to be in a position to start enrolling people in WENS this summer, which can be done online, and they will also begin advertising the fact at upcoming fairs and festivals.

Clark said they will start by incorporating WENS into the 911 system and later allowing cities, villages, townships and volunteer fire departments to utilize the technology but limit the usage. “My fear is if we let everyone use it and we start sending out alerts (for everything)” people may begin to disregard the alerts, she said.

Clark and Deputy 911 Director Brian Rutledge reviewed 10 proposals before recommending the committee sit through presentations by Inspiron and SwiftReach. Following those presentations, county Commissioner Tim Weigle — who is committee chairman — recommended they go with Inspiron because they provided the same service but for less money.

Jeremiah Cole from the Highlandtown Fire Department agreed, noting he also liked the fact Inspiron is from Akron, which could make it easier should there be any problems. WENS is used by 15 other Ohio counties.

The proposed three-year contract calls for Inspiron to be paid $5,600 the first year and $9,600 each in the second and third years. SwiftReach’s fee was $17,000 per year.

While the county is not mandated by the state to have reverse 911, Clark said it is in the county’s 911 plan.