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Getting the Word Out

When 74-year-old Alzheimer’s patient Lucia Rivera went missing from her home, Pennsylvania State Police sent a recorded phone message directly to residents within a five-mile radius of her home asking them to be on the lookout.

When 74-year-old Alzheimer’s patient Lucia Rivera went missing from her home, Pennsylvania State Police sent a recorded phone message directly to residents within a five-mile radius of her home asking them to be on the lookout.

The next day, farmer Wilmer Stone, who joined about 75 others in the search, spotted Rivera, who had apparently fallen down a highway overpass embankment.

The emergency notification system used by police to alert residents might well have saved Rivera’s life. The system, which lets government agencies send recorded emergency messages directly to citizens’ telephones, is in use in cities and towns throughout the country. In March, Virginia and Connecticut, following the lead of New Jersey and Rhode Island, signed statewide contracts to implement the system.

The system transmits emergency recordings to telephone numbers listed in local phone directories, 911 databases or opt-in programs. The recordings can be sent to entire communities or to specified geographic areas, says Jamie Cahill, territory manager for Sigma Communication’s Reverse 911. The recordings, which an agency might send following a prison escape or before a major storm for instance, instruct callers to press a number for further assistance. The system then maps callers geographically to help emergency responders effectively distribute help or follow up with specific callers.

“Years ago, sirens were used, but they don’t say much,” Cahill says. “This is a better means of communication. It’s important to have that capability to just reach out to citizens.”

Jul 03 2007

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