Testing of a new “reverse 911” emergency notification system is taking place this week in Spokane County, as officials get ready to put the alert technology online next month.
Test calls were expected to begin Monday and continue through Wednesday to 47,000 homes in the county.
The $100,000 system allows emergency communications personnel to quickly send out telephone alerts in case of wildfire, hazardous material spills or police emergencies.
Residents receiving the calls are asked to listen to the test messages, familiarize themselves with the system, and advise other household members about it.
Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams said the alerts will be especially useful in cases where a wildfire is threatening homes and evacuations are needed.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said alerts may be sent out during law enforcement emergencies such as when an armed suspect is sought at a specific location.
The system is linked to geographic information data and can target calls to specific blocks or neighborhoods as well as the entire county.
“It’s really going to enhance our ability to notify the public in times of extreme need and emergencies,” Knezovich said.
Cell phone users will be able to sign up for the alerts starting in February at alertspokane.org.
Signups will also be available for voice-over Internet phones and by e-mail.
The system is being financed through a 0.1 percent additional sales tax approved by county voters in 2008. About $100,000 is being budgeted annually to pay for maintaining the data and for phone bills associated with the messages.