Funding cuts cause City of Denison to switch emergency alert sys - - No One Gets You Closer

Funding cuts cause City of Denison to switch emergency alert systems

DENISON -- The City of Denison is using a new alert system to get the word out about emergencies.

The change is a result of funding cuts by the federal government.

From train derailments to tornado warnings to festivals on Main Street, Denison residents can now receive alerts from the city through a new system called Blackboard Connect.

"It may save people's lives," Grayson County resident Robert Goley said.

"I think it's something I'd be interested in but I'd want to check it out first," Denison resident Herman Ringler said.

Thursday, Bill Ray, assistant fire chief with the Denison Fire Department and Lt. Mike Eppler with Denison police announced Blackboard Connect is replacing the CodeRED system that's been in place for the past five years. The city says it'll allow residents to receive quicker, more targeted emergency and non-emergency information.

Ray says about 7,800 landlines were automatically loaded into the system when the city began using Blackboard Connect on April first.

"I think there's been some interdepartmental communications notifying workers that they need to report to work. There's been couple weather activations," Ray said.

Users have to log online to sign up for alerts to your cell phone and email.

The link to sign-up is on the City of Denison website.

Once you enter your names and email address, you'll receive a link to complete the sign-up process.

Log in and you can choose whether you want alerts to come to your home phone, email or cell phone.

You can also select the type of alerts you want from departments like fire, police, main street and public works.

"It may be something very simple like a community event or maybe a street closure that could be an inconvenience for someone. But it could also be something very serious," Eppler said.

Ray says Denison is phasing out the county-wide CodeRED system because a federal grant that had been paying for it ran out.

The Grayson County Office of Emergency Management says CodeRED will still be used throughout the rest of the county and that it will still be available in Denison.

In an email, OEM director Sarah Somers said:

"The City of Denison is still a part of our multi-jurisdictional, county-wide, emergency notification system. All of the sixteen cities in Grayson County entered into an interlocal for shared and coordinated emergency notifications in September of 2009.  That system was put into service for the benefit of our residents October 1, 2009, and has served all of us well. This agreement has not been terminated. In previous years, the system we used was covered by Grayson County through available grant funds. It had been anticipated that we would only cover the cost of the service for the first year with grants but luckily we brought back into the community federal tax dollars to cover this investment in capacity every year. Until we began to plan for FY15. We have asked all of our cities to pay their share based on the population of their cities as stated in our agreement for the coming fiscal year.

It is important to Grayson County OEM that we continue to work together with all of our cities to insure coordinated, emergency public information and warnings to all county residents – no matter where those residents live.  Disasters and large scale emergency events do not recognize city limit lines and working together on warning insures the information provided to all city and county residents is consistent and clear when seconds count.

Sometimes, as cities grow, their needs for additional services for their residents increase – such is the case in Denison. They have a need for both emergency and non-emergency notifications, which our agreement does not cover.  Their new system announced today increases their capacity to provide both emergency and non-emergency notifications to their residents (such as for their municipal court.) Some of our cities already use other systems for non-emergency notifications

Grayson County OEM  is responsible, through another interlocal, for the emergency management plan of the county, including Denison as a signatory city. Several of those operational plans relate to warning and emergency public information. We are working with the City of Denison to insure our plan and procedures are updated consistent with the use of both systems in time for their implementation of their enhanced capacity October 1.  We are also working with the city to insure that all of the residents of Denison continue to receive critical emergency notifications without interruption or confusion. That, in the end, is what is most important to Grayson County OEM."

The City of Denison says the cost for Blackboard Connect and CodeRED are the same, $8,000 annually.

The city says it will now pay for the service out of its general fund.

After October 1, CodeRED will no longer be used by the City of Denison.