UPDATE: This version ADDS the link residents can use to register to get the alerts.
Thirty-three thousand residents of Story County received either a call, text or email from Story County’s Emergency Management Agency on Friday in its first testing of its countywide alert system.
The system, officially named Story County Iowa Alerts, has been within the county since 2014, but last Friday, during Septembers’ National Preparedness month, county officials wanted to see what their system could do.
National Preparedness month is put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and encourages states, counties and families to all be prepared for times of crisis.
Prior to the test, it was a real unknown to the department on how long it would take to contact each of their subscribers.
“We’ve been working with the system for four years now, and we think we know how to use it to the best of our abilities, but you never really know until you test it out,” said Story County Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Morgan.
So at 10 a.m. Friday, for the first time, Morgan pressed the red button, which delivered thousands of text messages and emails within minutes, and began the system calling every land line listed within Story County’s 911 database.
The results: text messages and emails were received minutes after the initiation of the tests, but it took approximately one hour and 23 minutes to contact about 27,800 people over the phone, Morgan said.
“The system would call, and if it wasn’t answered it would leave a voice mail and try to reach the resident at a later time,” he said. “The system might have reached out to one line three times, but now having the information about the test will help our agency moving forward.”
Morgan is encouraging everyone who subscribes to the notification system to list text message or email as their primary contact method, because in times of an actual disaster phone lines could be down, and the only ways to communicate might be through text or email.
The agency is also encouraging subscribers to add the number to their contact lists, so if they get another message they know it is not spam.
To register, residents can go to http://www.storycountyiowa.gov/1155/Story-County-Iowa-Alerts
Although the possibilities of an emergency happening that would warrant issuing a countywide notification are slim, running tests is crucial for the agency to assure they get things right in times of crisis, Morgan said.
He said his office hopes to incorporate testing of the system at the end of each September to align with preparedness month.