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Disaster puts focus on reverse 911

This article was written by Mark Todd. It was originally published in the Star Beacon on January 27, 2011.

If a catastrophe occurs, Ashtabula County’s CodeRED emergency notification system will minimize the contact problems that befell Lake County during Fairport Harbor’s recent firestorm natural-gas disaster, officials said Wednesday.

Lake County’s reverse 911 system, which can pass along bulletins to residents via telephone calls, met with mixed results in Fairport Harbor. Thanks to the popularity of cellular telephones, more than one third of the emergency calls automatically dialed to village residents after fires started, urging them to evacuate their homes, never connected, according to reports. The problem is that the Lake County system’s database contains only land-line telephone numbers, not cellular phone numbers, according to reports.

That’s not a problem with the CodeRED system Ashtabula County launched last fall, said George Sabo, Emergency Management Agency director.

With just a few keystrokes, CodeRED allows residents to add and edit contact information already compiled by the county. Different telephone numbers — cellular as well as land-line — can be registered for the same address  to ensure emergency calls reach as many ears as soon as possible, Sabo said.

“You can list all the family cell phones at your address,” he said. “It narrows the chances of missing somebody.”

If preferred, bulletins also can be received via text message. People are encouraged to check their contact information and make updates if necessary. To check contact data for your address, go to the Ashtabula County Web site (co.ashtabula.oh.us) and click on the CodeRED tab on the home page.

“A lot of people are giving up their land-line telephones,” Sabo said. “We are really pushing people to check their (contact) information.”

Ashtabula County’s CodeRED database will get an additional boost by updated 911 information being compiled by the county auditor’s office. Between existing numbers on hand, research from the auditor’s office and input provided by the public, the system is “as good as we can get it,” Sabo said.

CodeRED has been used about a dozen times since it was introduced in late October, Sabo said. The last time it was used, the system connected with 86 percent of the targeted addresses, a ratio way above national averages, he said.

“We’ve really increased our percentage,” Sabo said.

During the past three months, the CodeRED system has been activated to notify residents in various neighborhoods around the county about water problems, police activity, road closures — even a missing person, Sabo said.

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