With the deadly fires that hit the Hawaiian island of Maui, killing more than 100 people, reports say residents had no warning before flames engulfed their homes. If a major disaster strikes the Delaware Valley, are there systems to warn people to flee or take shelter?
Montgomery County encourages all residents to sign up for its ReadyMontco notification system, said Megan Alt, county communications director. The program delivers alerts about severe weather and other important events in Montgomery County to residents via their preferred method of communication – emails, text messages, push notifications, or phone calls, she said.
Within the ReadyMontco system, residents have the option to subscribe to environmental alerts, which are used for things such as Code Orange (air quality), and municipal alerts, which include emergency information (such as weather alerts) and community information (like road closures).
“The Office of Public Safety also can use a system called WEA, or wireless emergency alert. This would push a message via all cell towers in the county to anyone with a wireless device within the county borders,” said Alt.
James O’Malley, Bucks County spokesperson, said that county can use a reverse 911 system, “which allows us to dial all residential and business landlines within a selected geographic area.”
It also has, “Resident Connect, which allows us to call all cell and VOIP phones registered to a specific address. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) gives the county the ability to send notifications through Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Emergency Alerting System (EAS).
“WEA messages are sent to cell phones whose GPS registers in a specified geographic area,” he said, so anyone with a cell phone in Bucks County could receive an alert. “A signal received through WEA is the same type of alert the National Weather Service uses for tornado warnings and that the state uses for Amber Alerts (for missing children).
“EAS is the system that delivers messages to TV and radio stations; it’s typically used by the state or federal government,” said O’Malley.
Residents can also sign up to receive Emergency Alerts through the ReadyBucks system.
In Chester County, the Department of Emergency Services (DES) uses different methods of communication with residents, businesses, and organizations, depending on the nature and urgency of the emergency, said Rebecca Brain, director of communications.
The DES receives weather notifications from the National Weather Service at Mt. Holly, N.J., during weather threats to Chester County (severe, watch, or warning). DES uses ReadyChesco to communicate these incidents, as well as the county’s social media sites.
“ReadyChesco is an opt-in system of emergency notification, and we are always promoting its value to everyone who lives or works in or travels through Chester County,” said Brain. “Everyone can sign up.”
“In the event of an emergency that requires immediate action – either within a very specific area of the county, or the whole of the county, Chester County’s DES uses the Reverse911 system that calls landlines and cell phones, and that gives a voice message that describes the emergency and the actions that need to be taken – shelter-in-place, evacuate, notification of police activity, etc.”
Brain added, “September is National Preparedness Month, and Chester County DES encourages everyone who lives and works here to take part in ensuring preparedness themselves, as well as relying on emergency services. The county’s Preparedness Guide is very comprehensive and is a very good starting point for helping individuals, families, businesses, and organizations to be prepared.”
According to the county website, Delaware County has an emergency notification system, Delco Alert.
“Delco Alert is an information and warning system that will provide text messaging through email devices or cell phones for numerous events. These messages can be delivered wherever you are with your wireless devices.
The system allows multiple devices to be enrolled, making it a perfect medium for ensuring that all family members get important warnings as they come up. The system will be used by local municipalities and authorities, county, state, and federal agencies to communicate important information.”
DelcoAlert continues to be a free service. To sign up, residents can visit the county website and click the yellow DelcoAlert icon.
The National Emergency Alerting System also will carry alerts on TV and radio, and the NOAA National Weather Service weather radio can alert residents. Delco’s county code is 042045.
While the City of Philadelphia does not have a citywide siren system, it has an Alert and Warning System, said Jeffrey Kolakowski, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management. It relies on multiple systems to spread the word of an emergency:
- ReadyPhiladelphia is a subscription-based text and email alert service. Important messages, such as severe weather, special event updates, or human-caused incidents, are delivered free to enrollees. People can enroll for free phone alerts by texting READYPHILA to 888-777, or they can customize text or email alerts for locations important to them.
- Emergency Alerts- The office can send immediate, critical messages to cell phone users throughout the city via Wireless Emergency Alerts or television/radio through the Emergency Alert System. This federal program is for which OEM staff is trained, goes to all users within an area, and is not subscription-based. It relies on cell phone towers, over-the-air, and cable broadcast systems.
- Reverse 911- OEM can send recorded messages to all phone numbers listed in the city’s White and Yellow pages.
- Social and Digital Media- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube @PhilaOEM, NextDoor Citywide, and digital content through the city’s website. Content on the website can be translated into multiple languages.
- PHLgovTV is the broadcast network for city government agencies and departments. The channel aims to provide information about city services, attractions, and activities. PHLgovTV is available live stream and on Xfinity Channel 64 and Fios Channel 40.
- The city also works with television, radio, or print media to disseminate messages.
- Philadelphia can publish in-person and virtual press conferences live to followers and media.
- And Philly311, the city’s non-emergency number, has multi-lingual translation services available for callers asking for information.