BENNINGTON -- Using an alert system purchased from New York state, Vermont's local police, fire departments, and other emergency responders will be able to give specific, localized emergency notices.
Vermont Alert, found at www.vtalert.gov, is free to use. Robert Schell, chief of field operations for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the service is also free for municipalities and emergency jurisdictions to use. It was announced to the public today, but those in the emergency management community have known about the plans to implement Vermont Alert for the past two years, and all they have to do is schedule a time to receive training on its use.
Schell said each jurisdiction will designate people, such as police or fire chiefs, to use the system. They will then be able to send out emergency alerts to cell phones, computers, land lines, and even gaming systems owned by citizens who sign up for the service. Social media accounts can likewise be signed up.
Vermont Alert allows officials to target specific areas, down to the street level. For example, were a truck carrying propane to overturn on Route 9 near Bennington, an evacuation alert could be sent to those living within a mile of the crash, and the road's closure could be sent to an even wider area, said Schell. Officials can also pass along broader types of alerts, such as what the National Weather Service releases.
He said an alert for any kind of emergency can be dispersed, be it fire, flooding, icy roads, or a crash. Those receiving the alerts can designate the areas where they want to hear them from and the hours of the day in which they want to hear them, said Schell.
Vermont bought the system from New York state for $58,000, using money from a fund provided annually by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. New York Alert has been running since 2006, said Schell, and that state has worked out many of the kinks.
He said there is currently no fee being charged for its use, as collecting they money would likely be more expensive that whatever was taken in. Schell said if universities sign on, perhaps within the next few years, that may create a cost that has to be examined.
"I'm pleased the state has taken the steps to put something like this in place," said Bennington Police Chief and Director of Public Safety Paul Doucette in an interview.
He said during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 the town relied on Facebook and local media to keep the public informed.
"As soon as they announce training dates we will be certain to have people trained in that," he said.
According to Doucette, members of the Bennington Select Board have expressed interest in the system since it became known to them last year.
"We've seen over the past couple of years the value of speedy and accurate information as emergency situations develop," said Gov. Peter Shumlin in a release. "This new system will give Vermonters a head start in preparing for storms or other hazardous conditions."
Schell said his division plans to work with towns over the next few weeks and months, and they are hoping many people will sign up. Statewide alerts are available now.
"We have worked long and hard to bring Vermont Alert to fruition," said Joe Flynn, director of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in a release. "This provides not only the state, but local responders with another tool to mitigate the effects of disasters on Vermont and its citizenry -- at no direct cost to those local response organizations."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.