With the continued decline of wired telephone customers, Spokane County officials are urging cellphone users to sign up to receive alerts about wildfires, hazardous spills, dangerous criminals and other emergencies.
Residents with traditional landlines are automatically registered to receive calls when an emergency occurs near their homes or businesses.
But owners of just 3,700 cellphones are in the countywide emergency alert database out of a population of 480,000 people, County Commissioner Todd Mielke said.
People who have converted to solely using cellphones or Web-based phones can register by going online at alertspokane.org.
The capability to notify residents near an emergency quickly is an effective tool for protecting public safety, officials said.
“We need the public’s help” in getting signed up, Mielke said.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the system was used in the wake of a recent shooting to notify nearby residents that a gunman was on the loose.
The system was used during a recent hazardous material leak near the state line recently and to warn neighbors of a fast-moving wildfire last summer in southwest Spokane County.
The hazardous material leak on Sept. 14 resulted in this message to 48 people living nearby: “All people living within a half mile of the I-90 weigh scale at mile marker 299 are advised to shelter in place due to a leaking chemical. You are advised to shut your windows and turn off air conditioning.”
The emergency notification system also was used to warn residents of a boil water order issued because of contamination of a small water district system.
Residents with landlines who also use cellphones can go to the ALERT Spokane website and register their mobile phone to get alerts in both forms.
In addition, the system allows residents to register multiple phone numbers and multiple addresses.
As a result, notifications could be sent to people when an emergency occurs near their workplace, school or residence.
Residents can select the method of notification, including email or text message. Children’s cellphones may be registered.
The emergency notifications were made possible through a multiyear upgrade of the county’s emergency communications system.
The monthlong public awareness campaign will include getting the word out through utility bills, license renewals and schools.
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