ROACHDALE -- A new system allowing federal, state and local emergency management officials to send alert messages to the public will be tested in Roachdale on Friday, Feb. 1.
The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is the new emergency alert system implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As part of the implementation of this system, the Putnam County Emergency Management Agency will conduct a drill for the residents of Roachdale at approximately 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 1.
"For this drill, we will send a test text message to all cell phones active in the Town of Roachdale and in the immediate vicinity," 911 director and EMA assistant director Dave Costin said. "The only requirement is that the cell phone must be on."
A registration of the cell phone for emergency messages is not required in IPAWS. The system will see all active mobile phones in the area and send them a text message.
"This is only a portion of the total capabilities of the IPAWS system, but an important part that we want to exercise," Costin said.
IPAWS utilizes technology that can sense any phones logged onto the cell phone towers in a particular area. A computer program allows local emergency officials to choose a particular part of the county map to notify.
Emergency information is then sent to all such phones, regardless of the phone's area code or prefix. Even a traveler passing through an area can be notified of an emergency situation.
"It checks to see who's on and sends them a text," Costin said.
County officials wanted to test a small area due to the cost of sending out notifications.
EMA director Tom Helmer and Costin chose Roachdale because there is gasline work going on in the area.
They have coordinated the date and time with Roachdale Town Marshal Mike Mahoy and Roachdale Fire Chief Mike Poole, both of whom approved of being part of the test.
Friday's notifications should help local officials figure out what kind of issues remain with the new program, such as how accurately it sticks to the chosen area and how the notification will show up on people's phones.
"I'm kind of curious to see what we'll find," Costin said.
He anticipates the notification will come from an out-of-state number, perhaps from a New York area code. He is, however, trying to change this, hoping the notifications can either reflect a local number or name.
"We'd like to put 'Putnam County emergency' or at least 'emergency' in there somewhere and people might be more likely to pay attention to it," Costin said.
IPAWS features a long list of emergencies for which notifications may be sent out. These pre-written messages range from the common or even likely (severe storms, tornadoes, winter storms) to the unlikely or impossible (hurricanes, volcanoes) in our area.
Costin said it also allows local officials to write their own messages that may not be on the list, such as advising residents to seek shelter because of an overturned tanker.
In the old system, which remains in place, all landlines in a particular area receive a recorded call warning of an emergency and any registered mobile phones get a text message.
This method of emergency alerts is still active, both for notifying landlines and mobile phones that are turned off, and for minor emergencies, such as issuing boil orders.
Anyone with questions, before or after the drill, may contact Costin at 653-5115, ext. 100.