Pendleton says yes to warning system using texts, emails and phone calls, not sirens

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Pendleton - The Pendleton Town Council voiced support for a new mobile device-centered storm warning system as well as several projects related to the town’s water supply at its meeting Thursday, March 6.

The board started the meeting with a presentation from the Madison County Emergency Management Association, which discussed new ways residents can prepare for storms and other emergencies.

“There is nothing we can do to stop a tornado,” EMA Director Tom Ecker said. “But there is a way we can prepare. I think it’s very important to enhance options to our residents. You really need to have a plan of action for emergencies in your home or business.”

The mission of the EMA is to “protect communities by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain and improve the capability to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.”

Ecker said while many towns have tornado sirens, he does not believe they get the job done.

“Sirens are 1960s technology and can be ignored,” Ecker said. “We’ve found that instead of taking shelter when they hear a siren go off, people want more information and are running to the TV or computer. If there really is a true, immediate danger, people should be taking shelter.”

Pendleton does not have tornado sirens, but Ecker said a new warning notification system for all communities in Madison County will make the noise makers obsolete.

“This is a relatively new program for us, one that we’re getting ready to roll out for the public,” Ecker said. “This is the same mass notification system that we’ve used internally for first responders for about five years. Now the more robust system can notify residents.”

While specifics about the program were not released at the meeting, Ecker said he hoped residents could begin signing up for the notification system “by the end of the month.”

“As I’ve said, we’re a very mobile society now,” Ecker said. “With this notification system, we’ll be able to send a message and alert thousands of people in just a minute.”

Once registered, Ecker said residents would be able to receive alerts via email, texts or phone calls.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” Ecker said. “We can get you the message and tell you specifically what’s happening right away. Those who sign up will actually be able to get information directly as they need it, without rumor mills or gossip.”

He added the notification system also will be able to inform people about more than just dangerous storms.

“It’s not just for weather,” Ecker said. “We can use it for road closures, water outages, boil orders, chemical spills, medical pandemics and fire evacuations. There is no end to the messages we can send out. But we don’t plan to send them out constantly; it will just be for emergencies.”

Ecker said he had approached Pendleton about the system in hopes of receiving “some contribution” to help offset future costs. Currently, the Madison County Council is footing the bill for the notification system, which costs $25,000 to $30,000 a year to maintain. It will cover about 30 communities once complete.

“The cost is not that high when compared to sirens,” Ecker said. “This system is for the entire county. We’ve already footed the bill this year, but if we can get a small portion from every community it will help keep costs down.”

Sirens would cost about $25,000.

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