If a phone rings in a home when no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Well, yes. But it doesn’t do much good.
That’s why Spokane County officials are trying to raise awareness about its new ALERT Spokane system, whereby emergency responders use automated messages to give specific instructions during crisis situations.
Recently, the system – a type of “reverse 9-1-1,” although officials are discouraging use of that trademarked term – was upgraded so the alerts could be sent to cell phones, Voice Over Internet Protocol phones, e-mail addresses and similar electronic devices as alternative methods of notification.
On Tuesday, county officials hammered home the message that area residents must register their information in order to make use of the expanded service. It will also allow for someone to text 9-1-1 to report an emergency – and even send a photo or video -- which could be advantageous to emergency responders.
If you have a phone hanging from your wall at home, you’re already in the system, officials say.
“If you have a landline phone, you’re already in the ALERT Spokane system,” said Mark Richard, county commissioner and board chairman.
“However, for those relying on cell phones or e-mail, they must be registered with ALERT Spokane.”
The technology upgrade would have been beneficial during the Valley View fire two years ago, as emergency personnel went through the neighborhoods using a bullhorn to inform residents of the need to evacuate.
“We’re extremely excited about the ability to use this system,” Richard said.
The registration period begins next Monday, Sept. 13. After registering over the Internet or by mail it could take several weeks for the information to be entered into the system as the information must be entered by hand.
“Be advised, it could take up to 120 days for the ALERT Spokane database to be updated with your information, so the sooner you self-register, the better.”
While there has already been some periodic testing of ALERT Spokane, Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson said that the system was given its first real trial by fire in July during a homicide investigation where it was feared than an armed homicide suspect could be involved in a standoff in the Northwood neighborhood.
“We had a high degree of success, making 98 calls,” Thompson said.
The system can handle making about 7,500 calls an hour. Speed of alerts over the Internet or cell phones will depend upon the service provider for the devices.
Starting next year, county residents will pay a total of 75 cents a month on their phone bills for 9-1-1 service – a 25-cent increase that will help pay for the ALERT Spokane feature. That will also include VOIP customers, which include those who have their phone service through Comcast, who – up to now – haven’t paid the tax.
The tax increase will raise an additional $1.3 million a year.
In May 2008, Spokane County voters approved, by more than 65 percent, a .01 of 1 percent sales tax for new emergency communications equipment. The tax generates about $8 million a year and also funds the ALERT Spokane system and Crime Check.
The tax, which has a sunset date in 2019, is primarily used to pay for needed hardware and infrastructure upgrades for the county’s aging analog radio equipment used by emergency responders. Even more pressing, under a federal mandate, digital signals using much narrower bandwidths than analog must be in place soon.
The next round of testing for ALERT Spokane has been scheduled for sometime in October.
Additional information can be found at www.alertspokane.org.