Warning system taps mobile tech to inform public

A full version of San Mateo County’s Community Alert System, which allows residents to get text messages and e-mails about everything from traffic delays to natural disasters, was touted Thursday by the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff’s Office.

The county’s Office of Emergency Services has been testing a version of the program for the last six months, with 1,650 people signed up in the county’s 20 cities, plus its unincorporated areas. Now they hope everyone in the county signs up for the full service to get alerts about emergency situations — including where to evacuate to — and day-to-day updates on such areas as transportation.

You’ll need to set up an account at www.smcalert.info to have alerts you choose sent to a cell phone, pager or e-mail account.

Users can choose which specific alerts in what cities and unincorporated areas they want sent to each device. The alert settings can be edited at any time.

OES plans to add schools to the list of alerted communities next year.

The service is free, but standard text messaging fees apply. The county secured a $380,000 Homeland Security grant for the program.

The county tried a home phone alert system called Dialogic Phone Services for about a month, which retrieved numbers from phone-company databases. The problem with the service, Sheriff Greg Munks said, was that it cost 25 cents per call.

Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said she wished she had this service two years ago during the slide at Broadmoor Village, where she has family. She learned about it on the news later that evening.

“If I had this, I would know immediately that there was some form of a disaster in our district,” Tissier said. “Also, it would tell me how to get there and if it was something affecting my family.”

Munks mentioned the county used the trial version to alert the community of toxic smoke during a scrap-metal fire in Redwood City in May. The Central County Fire Department has also been using the service.

There will be booths for people to sign up for the service at the county’s Disaster Preparedness Day at the San Mateo County Event Center on Sept. 29, which will further educate citizens on what to do during an emergency.

San Mateo County community alerts

Events

» Earthquakes, tsunamis, traffic jams, BART delays, weather alerts, Amber alerts, terror alert-level changes, fires, emergencies requiring evacuation, crime sprees, hazardous materials

Devices

» Cell phone, e-mail, BlackBerry, iPaq webmail, Treo webmail, pager

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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