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April 01. 2012 11:07PM

Nashua looks into cell phone alerts during emergencies

NASHUA — With some parts of the city without electricity for nearly a week during last October's snowfall, residents turned to cell phones to access Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites for information.

Now the city's emergency management director is trying to find a way to streamline all of the information released during storms, power outages and other emergencies.

“One of the biggest things that we've found in the emergency management profession is that people are looking for more information online,” said Justin Kates, emergency management director.

Kates recently launched a new Emergency Management Department website, complete with information on how to prepare for an emergency, make a plan and build a disaster kit. It also posts weather watches, warnings and advisories so that city residents can be ready for an emergency, he said.

Although the site does not currently have the ability to alert residents of emergencies via their cell phones by text messages or emails, he hopes to have that notification capability up and running in the next few months.

Soon, residents and businesses will be able to subscribe to specific alerts such as weather advisories, electrical outage data, road closures and other pertinent information, said Kates.

While some communities use notification services such as Nixle or Code Red to alert residents about emergencies through text messages and email, Kates said the city of Nashua does not currently use either of those systems.

The police and fire departments also do not use those notification systems, but Kates said various city departments are trying to work together to find the best program that could be used citywide to alert residents of missing people, traffic congestion, storm warnings or other helpful information.

Kates said residents will be able to subscribe to as few or as many alerts as they desire. For instance, if residents are only interested in police alerts, they would only subscribe to the police department bulletins. Others may be interested in a variety of alerts, including agendas for aldermanic meetings, fire notices or community news releases.

“Not everyone has a Facebook or Twitter account, but might have a cell phone where they can receive text message alerts or emails,” said Kates. “People seem to want to have this type of immediate access to information.”

Kates said he is trying to find the most efficient and cost-effective system that can be customized without requiring apps to be downloaded or a lot of personal information to subscribe.

“There are so many solutions out there, but each one has its own benefits and detractors that must first be analyzed. We want to find one that works best for all departments in the city,” said Kates. “We want it to be simple and we want it to be flexible.”

He said residents can get access to immediate emergency alerts on the new website at www.gonashua.com by clicking on the emergency management department section.


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