Keeping Marshall County safe and aware
Eighty-four of the Iowa’s 99 counties, including Marshall County are either part of Alert Iowa or have made steps to incorporate the program. The Iowa Homeland Security Department financed Alert Iowa in 2015, which is used to keep the public in the loop of any potential crises.
Marshall County got on board fairly early and began to offer it to the public early last year, said Kim Elder, emergency management coordinator for Marshall County, which oversees the program locally.
“The reason some counties haven’t agreed to use this system is due to the extensive training required,” Elder said. “We’ve trained the hospital, communication center, sheriff’s office and police department in Marshalltown.”
Information that is sent out to the public can be fed in through all of these departments, in addition to Elder herself.
Most of the information she gets is non-emergency, meaning it doesn’t come from emergency services. One example she noted could be a downed tree, it’s not endangering someone right away, but it could pose a risk.
“In a situation like that someone should call their city,” Elder said. “They will then determine if it’s emergency or not.”
Alert Iowa is similar to the old Nixle program, which the Marshalltown Police used to employ. This newer system is much more expansive, covering all emergency services.
One of the other downfalls of Nixle was it being a paid service. Alert Iowa is fully funded by the state, with no cost coming to the county service, Elder said.
The sign-up for Alert Iowa has been made fairly simple, the only information needed being a name, address and phone number. A map of Iowa shows the counties who are part of the system, and can be selected.
Each county chosen requires another sign-up, and each individual needs to sign-up separately, regardless of same family or not.
The recipient will also get to choose their preferred way of receiving the alerts.
Those options include e-mail, text or voice call to cellphone and a phone call to a home phone.
Any number published in the phonebook is automatically added to the systems database.
“Some people are confused to why they’re receiving calls, having not signed up,” Elder said. “It sounds like a telemarketer at least, but they have to wait and listen to see who it is.”
Most of the alerts that come out don’t deal with a crisis themselves, more so provide information on how it might affect the public. One recent example is the fatal accident involving a postal worker. Information was sent out to warn people that South Center and Church Streets were blocked off.
The system is also designed to keep non-emergency calls from getting to emergency services. An excess of calls tends to clog up the communication line and delay true emergencies.
A majority of the people who are currently enrolled in the program are families of or close to public service people, such as police department, fire and EMS. These people understand the importance of the system and have given positive feedback.
“One of the bonuses to this is people won’t get too many alerts,” Elder said. “We can narrow it down to notify them of things that will only affect them.”
Elder also explained these alerts won’t include common weather issues. Those automatically come through the National Weather Service, and aren’t associated.
Currently about 16,000 people in Marshall County are registered, some residents of other counties. She is hoping to see that number exceed 30,000.
“We definitely need to get our numbers up,” Elder said. “It’s the most effective way to keep people informed.”
For more information on Alert Iowa and to get signed up visit http://homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/about_HSEMD/alert_iowa.html.