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Alert program gets second chance

Less than eight weeks after Harrison County’s alert notification program was nixed due to lack of funding by the county council, a revised version of it is up and running.
The program, Everbridge, was started nearly two years ago, initially on a trial basis then funded by the county ‘ providing free alert messages regarding severe weather to residents who signed up for it ‘ until July 9, when the council, by a 4-3 vote, decided not to spend $12,500 for the program for another year.
Greg Reas, Harrison County’s Emergency Management Agency director, had told the council that the system was not perfect but he didn’t know of anything out there that is.
Despite the council wanting the system to also provide road closures, only weather-related alerts were being issued. Those were sent to subscribers by the National Weather Service by way of texts, emails and/or voice messages to land lines or cell phones, depending on the subscribers’ request.
Two days later, on July 11, a notice went out to subscribers that there would be no future notifications due to the lack of funding. The approximate 11,250 subscribers were encouraged to find alternative sources for their emergency notification needs.
However, interest piqued in the program on July 20 when an EF-1 tornado passed through the New Middletown area, damaging homes and other structures and toppling trees.
County Commissioner Charlie Crawford agreed to work with Reas to implement a plan for revisiting Everbridge. A committee, consisting of Crawford, Reas, Reas’ assistant Traci Ruddell, Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye, Detective Lt. Nick Smith and Capt. Brad Shepherd, both of the sheriff’s department, Tony Combs, administrator of the county health department, and Milltown Police Chief Ray E. Saylor, has met weekly since July 30 to determine how to improve the program and how to increase the number of subscribers.
‘It’s crucial to show improvements,’ Seelye said.
After the initial meeting, the committee made strides in how to reach more residents.
The sheriff had talked with the superintendents at all three school corporations, Saylor had reached out to the Harrison County Public Library and Combs said all customer service windows at the health department would assist with signing up residents. Other points of contact were suggested by committee members.
Also, public service announcements were discussed with this newspaper as well as with WOCC radio station in Corydon.
With the program’s expansion of notifications, the committee determined who would be authorized to send out alerts. The majority of them will be generated by the Harrison County 911 Dispatch Center. Smith and Shepherd agreed to train dispatchers to send out alerts.
After talking with Everbridge personnel, Smith was able to get the company to waive the $1,200 fee it wanted to reinstate the service to Harrison County and negotiated two free months.
While weather-related alerts resumed Aug. 15, when a severe thunderstorm passed through the county, the committee decided Monday it was ready to start enrolling new subscribers following the hashing out of the new areas of notifications.
In addition to weather alerts for flash floods, severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings, subscribers can opt to receive notifications regarding emergency services, road closures, local government, school alerts and community events.
Those who were previously enrolled in the program will have to log in to subscribe to any desired new alert areas. For those who were signed up by the EMA office, or don’t remember their user name and password, they can call the EMA office at 812-738-8949 for assistance.
New subscribers can sign up in a variety of ways to include going online to; by picking up a form at several locations throughout the county (i.e. library branches and county offices) and mailing the form to the address listed or submitting it at any government office; by calling the EMA office (812-738-8949); or visiting the EMA office, sheriff’s department or libraries, where trained personnel can assist with the process.
The options to receive alerts still are texts, voice messages to home/work or cell phone and emails. Subscribers can choose up to five methods of notification.
‘I personally believe this is a great system,’ Reas said. ‘We’ve made good strides. I’m encouraged by the percentage of people signed up.’