Carmen Hanrahan woke up in her home on Birr Road. Around 5am to the ringing of her phone’s alarm.
It was an Emergency Alert from 911.
“Yes, it said that there’s a problem in the area, to stay inside and that they would notify us when everything was okay,” said Hanrahan.
There was a stand-off on Dewey Ave – just down the street from Hanrahan. Having gotten the alert, she knew to stay inside, but her neighbor, Frank Gonzalez, never received the emergency alert.
“It kind of makes you feel unsafe when things happen in the neighborhood and you don’t really know what’s going on,” Gonzalez explained.
Stephen Cusenz, the Deputy 911 Director says it wasn’t a mistake; Gonzalez just wasn’t in the direct area where police wanted the alert sent out.
“We chose the area around the incident, the folks we wanted most quickly notified of the situation,” Cusenz said.
The program that the 911 Center utilizes only allows 60 characters in a message, which drew concern.
“With the limited number of characters you have to put the most important piece of the message in which was it was a police incident and they wanted people to stay inside and away from doors and windows because of the situation that was unfolding,” he said.
To add to the alert- and confusion- this message was even received by people in Webster.
“Unfortunatly, it reached outside of that area and people got this message and they don’t know if it’s next door to them, down the street or miles away,” he explained.
Cusenz explains this was all due to cell towers – whoever was on the certain tower got the emergency alert.
The user’s location didn’t matter.
“For instance the smaller companies that don’t have a lot of their own towers, and you’re that customer, you’re going to get that alert because that’s the only tower that’s available to you,” Cusenz added.
The Deputy 911 Director told me that the center is trying to get a new program that will allow more than 60 characters in an emergency alert text – so if people that are not in the immediate area get the message -they will know that the alert does not apply to them.
For more information on how to sign up for emergency alerts: www.ready.gov/alerts