Kenwood/Glen Ellen part of upcoming emergency tests
If you receive an emergency-related notification on Sept. 10, Sept. 12, or both days, remember it is only a test – communications to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the county’s use of warning systems.
After the devastating wildfires of last October, Sonoma County officials received enormous amounts of criticism for poor emergency alert and warning efforts. Many members of the community reported getting no notification whatsoever of the oncoming firestorms.
County officials are trying to rectify past communication issues, and it is hoped that analysis of how the September tests perform will aid in getting timely information to as many people as possible during a real emergency.
“There’s no big red button on the wall,” said Christopher Godley, the Interim Emergency Manager of Sonoma County, when describing the multiple pathways that exist when attempting to reach people with time-sensitive information.
On Sept. 10, those who subscribe to Sonoma County’s SoCoAlert will get a test notification. SoCoAlert is a free service that allows the county’s first responders to relay information to residents about geographic-specific emergencies, either by telephone, mobile phone, text message, or email. Currently, a little over 32,000 people subscribe to SoCoAlert (go to SoCoAlert.com or call 866-939-0911 to sign up). The population of Sonoma County is closer to 480,000.
Also on Sept. 10, an alert will go out to all the land lines in Sonoma County, numbering over 248,000. Calls will go out at around 6 p.m.
The Sept. 10 communicatoins will inform recipients that on Sept. 12 there will be a test of the federal emergency test systems – the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wireless Emergency Alert System (WEAS).
EAS is a national public warning system often used by state and local authorities for such things such as child abductions (Amber alerts) or severe weather events. EAS participants include radio and television broadcasters.
WEAS delivers critical warnings and information to the public on their wireless devices.
The Sept. 12 test WEAS notification will target five separate geographical areas in Sonoma County – Kenwood/Glen Ellen, Penngrove/Cotati, Healdsburg, Guerneville, and Roseland. The areas were chosen as representative samples of the county, all with different topography.
The message will clearly state that the notification is just a test. It will ask the recipient to click on a hyperlink to the county’s emergency information website where it will ask the recipient to do a short survey.
The message will be sent in both English and Spanish.
The test wireless message will begin around 10 a.m. and will be sent to one geographic area at a time, separated by 15 minutes.
Then the EAS test will be activated, interrupting radio and television programs.
There will be a number of post-test methods to assess the effectiveness of the alerts, according to county officials.
Individuals in communities will be selected ahead of time and placed in locations to see if they received the notification effectively.
In addition, the survey results from those who click on the hyperlink will be evaluated.
Plus, a contractor is being hired to call residents in the tested communities and conduct a survey over the phone. The county hopes to get 1,000 responses using this method.
After that, an analysis of the collected data will be done. The goal is to have a report completed to share with city and county officials three weeks after the tests.
“This is just a test,” said Godley. “We’re not trying to traumatize people.”
In order to get the best analysis possible, Godley encouraged residents receiving the notifications to participate in the online survey, or to answer questions if they get a phone call.
In order to conduct the EAS and WEAS tests together, the county had to get special permission and a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In a July 26 letter to the FCC asking for the waiver, county emergency official Jim Colangelo wrote that, “The purpose of conducting the test at this time is to ensure that emergency management officials in Sonoma County have a clear understanding of how alerts would perform in our varied topography. Since our wildland fires last year, there has been a lack of faith in the emergency warning systems in Sonoma County. With updated policies and trainings, it is vital that we conduct a WEA test to inform our residents and build confidence.”
For more information on the Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 events, go to the county’s emergency website at www.socopsa.org.
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