Preparedness & Recovery

Alert System Offers Agencies Unique Tool in Kentucky

Since it was approved for purchase in 2015, Daviess County Emergency Management Agency and Parks and Recreations have been using the ping4alerts! system to send alerts to people who have downloaded the app.

by Jacob Dick, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. / November 29, 2017

(TNS) - Daviess County agencies currently use a communication system that enables them to pinpoint locations small or large and send direct information to anyone with a smartphone.

The only problem has been getting agencies on board to promote it.

Since it was approved for purchase in 2015, Daviess County Emergency Management Agency and Parks and Recreations have been using the ping4alerts! system to send alerts to people who have downloaded the app.

During that time, EMA has been able to send weather alerts to people within specific locations, and ROMP Fest attendants have been able to receive up-to-date messages, but it hasn’t widely promoted the app.

“The problem has been getting other agencies on board with it,” John Clouse, deputy director of EMA, said. “We’ve still been using it, but we haven’t tried to do a big community push because there is only two organizations using it.”

The app developed by Ping4 Inc., headquartered in New Hampshire, is designed to set geo locations as small as a building or across several miles to specific information, but also allows agencies to receive messages, photos and videos from users. Some agencies in other states use the system as a tipline for law enforcement.

The program also doesn’t collect user information from phones it is downloaded on. It only tracks locations to determine who is in the area of an alert.

EMA and Parks and Recreations currently share the $1,000 subscription for the service, but Clouse said other agencies haven’t been eager to jump in after presentations of the technology’s capabilities.

Maj. Barry Smith of the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department said part of the hesitance comes from whether enough residents would sign up for the system to rely on it for communication purposes.

“If we felt comfortable there would be common use, it would definitely be something we could look at,” Smith said. “The technology is there; the technology is good, but the information has to get to the person when you want.”

Smith said the sheriff’s department could benefit from the ability to instantly alert specific locations and that the reverse 911 system it currently uses is limited to residents owning landline phones.

For the moment, he said there is a “chicken and the egg” situation around whether agencies choose to rely on the technology and if there is an organized push for downloads.

Jim Bender, founder and CEO of Ping 4, said the technology has been used in several unique ways – like during the Boston Marathon bombing to lock down certain neighborhoods during the resulting manhunt or to pinpoint beaches for riptide alerts – but the method of getting residents to sign up for the service is usually left up to agencies.

“It's up to each jurisdiction to inform their residents of the app, and a lot of communities we serve are innovative in how they do it,” Bender said. “There are island communities in Cape Cod that uses ping4 for communitywide alerts. In some cases, it's shared cooperatively among local agencies.”

Bender said the company usually makes contact with areas on the state government level or works with the Department of Homeland Security, and views the technology as closely related to emergency management.

Ross Leigh, director of Daviess County Park and Recreation, said the emergency aspect of the technology is important, but other agencies could use it creatively to promote its download.

“Currently there are welcome messages being delivered to anyone who enters one of our parks that has the app,” Leigh said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have the need to send a widespread emergency message, but I think the technology could be used in a welcoming way for our guests like at ROMP. Someone could apply this technology and really take off with it.”

Jacob Dick, 270-228-2837, jdick@messenger-inquirer.com,Twitter: @jdickjournalism

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