PARIS — Alerting residents, schools, towns and businesses of immediate danger and escape and shelter routes used to mean sending police and firefighters knocking on doors.
But in today's world, there isn't enough manpower to quickly communicate such critical information in an emergency to prevent a catastrophe.
CityWatch will allow emergency officials to provide immediate and essential information to virtually every household in Oxford County by television, telephones and cellphones, fax machines, computers and radio, Scott Parker, Oxford County EMA director, said on Friday in Paris.
“We've known we've needed this for several years, because of the extreme hazards” of hazardous chemicals in use in the Rumford area, Parker said.
Additionally, he said weather patterns are worsening to the point where tornadoes and heavy rain events are increasing in frequency.
Another scenario could have Rumford's EMA chief responding to the paper mill and being told there's a chemical leak and he needs to have people within a 2-mile radius of his location evacuated immediately, Parker said.
With CityWatch in place, one phone call and it's done.
“If this helps us in our prioritization, then this is a good thing,” he said. “If you have a working land-line phone, we can warn you of a local danger.”
Parker said, “The system will be helpful to quickly notify town residents of serious flooding and other natural and man-made issues that arise.”
CityWatch will send out a 30-second or less message that is clear and concise, such as advising people to evacuate in a certain compass direction to escape serious flooding, or to lock their doors if someone is running around with a weapon and trying to kill or injure people.
Avtex Corporation's CityWatch system was purchased for about $44,000 funded through a Homeland Security Grant program, Parker said.
He said the system automatically places telephone calls to deliver emergency information.
Area residents who depend on cellular or “voice over Internet protocol” communications will be able to register their emergency contact information directly through an online link available on the Oxford County EMA website.
The system can also deliver e-mail, SMS text notifications, along with TTY for the hearing impaired upon registration.
“Beyond the obvious benefits during emergency situations, the system will be made available for area towns to deliver nonemergency information, such as school closings, meeting cancellations or messages to municipally-sponsored organizations and committees,” Parker said.
The grant proposal was submitted following extensive planning and proposal reviews conducted in 2009 and 2010 by county emergency management officials.
CityWatch and other “reverse-911” type systems have proven their merit in disaster alerting and emergency information nationwide in cases such as the California wildfires, Midwest floods, dam emergencies and missing child or elder cases, Parker said.
Training sessions will be held in the Paris Fire Department:
* From 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 22, for northern Oxford County towns.
* From 1 to 4 p.m. the same day for southern Oxford County towns.
* From 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 23, for public safety, hospitals and school districts.
Parker said that by the end of March, four Maine counties will be using CityWatch: Cumberland, Knox, Oxford and Somerset. Cumberland County, he said, has had it for a few years.