Few arrange to receive emergency notification

If a wildfire closes in on homes or armed robber runs at-large near a school, Mesa County’s emergency notification system issues phone calls and text messages to residents to keep them informed about those and other such emergencies.

Today, though, less than 3 percent of the population would receive that information from the county.

“The system is there, it works when we have people who sign up. So if we want to be efficient and effective, we need people to sign up,” Grand Junction police spokeswoman Kate Porras said.

The county’s emergency notification system has been in place for four years and includes multiple ways in which residents can receive emergency information — via cell phone, pager, e-mail or traditional landline telephone.

What’s unique about the location-based system is that residents can sign up as many addresses as they like, so they can receive potential emergency information about their kids’ school or daycare facility, addresses for elderly relatives, business locations or any other addresses that are important to them.

System capabilities aside, at the beginning of the year, just 2,400 of the more than 147,000 Mesa County residents had opted in to the community notification side of the system.

Though officials have been trying to raise awareness and sign people up, it took a true emergency — this summer’s Pine Ridge Fire near De Beque — to reveal the deficiencies of the current system.

“When we had so many homes in harm’s way, and we were asked to send emergency notifications to evacuate residents, the particular geographic location we were asked to send an alert to only had two landlines, of approximately 50 residences,” said Monica Million, operations manager for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.

Million said during fire season in June and July, authorities were able to sign up 1,700 more residents, but “every citizen in the county should be in the system,” she said.

She added the ongoing trend by people to ditch their landline phones altogether exacerbates the problem.

“We don’t have a way to communicate with them any longer because of that missing link,” she said.

To sign up to receive alerts, as well as get critical information throughout the time an event is taking place, residents are encouraged to dial 211 from their phones and sign up. The Western Colorado 211 service is a catch-all for lots of county information, and operators there can take people’s information and get it into the notification system.

People can also sign up via a link at http://www.gjcity.org.

Addresses and phone numbers are not shared with anyone, Porras said.

“We all hope that something serious never happens in our community, but we’re not immune from that kind of thing happening,” she said. “So if we’re prepared ahead of time, that just gives us a leg up in dealing with that emergency when it does come.”


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