ORANGE COUNTY – With the doom and gloom of upcoming hurricane season predictions, concern for public safety recently married with technology in Orange County. That marriage is giving birth to a new system to alert the public of dangers ranging from severe weather to Amber Alerts. The new system, OCAlert, uses text messaging technology to deliver alerts to any citizen wishing to subscribe to the service.
Orange County Mayor Richard T. Crotty recently unveiled a series of billboards about OCAlert which have been acquired through a partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor. Timed in conjunction with the beginning of National Hurricane Awareness Week, the unveiling is an attempt to raise public awareness of the new system in time for what some forecasters are predicting as a potentially busy storm season.
The campaign includes ten billboards that will rotate throughout the county to advertise the system.
During the ceremony, Mayor Crotty reminded citizens the need to sign up for the new service, which can deliver messages to any device with text messaging capability. Also on-hand for the event was Orange County Public Safety Director Jerry Demings.
"OCALERT is another tool in Orange County's possession that will allow us to quickly and accurately inform our citizens about emergency situations that could affect their lives,” said Demings. “This state of the art system combined with our existing notification systems will help to insure that we are keeping all of our citizens safe."
According to officials, messages can be delivered real-time to a variety of destinations, including cell phones, pagers, Blackberry devices and even your email address. The system, administered by the Orange County Office of Emergency Management, will start with weather warnings only. However, there are plans in the works to expand the system to include Amber Alerts, major road closure notifications, evacuation alerts, and shelter information.
Orange County is not the first to have such a system. According to Preston Cook, Executive Director for Orange County Emergency Management, the idea is catching on fast around the country.
“There are several systems now in service across the United States,” said Cook. “Some agencies using this already are the Washington DC Emergency Management Agency, National Capitol Region (District of Columbia), the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Forest Service. Cities include New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia, College Park (Maryland), and Fairfax Co & Louden Counties in Virginia.”
While OCAlert isn’t the full answer to emergencies, it is a step in the right direction.
"OCALERT is one component of our overall public warning system,” said Demings. “This system consists of NOAA weather radios, EAS, local media and first responders going door to door if necessary. There is no one simple answer to our alerting and warning needs. We are committed to doing all we can to insure our citizens are safe, but we need help. Citizens must exercise personal responsibility to be prepared. This is always the most important component to any preparedness effort."
What’s the cost of OCAlert? Nothing. There’s no software to install, or extra equipment needed. Anyone can sign up by visiting www.ocalert.net. However, officials do stress that most wireless carriers charge a fee to receive text messages, and urge people to check their plans accordingly.