Phone Alert Warning Trial

From: Bob Moss (e-mail address suppressed)
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 19:18:47 EST
Subject: [bpa-misc] Phone Alert Warning Trial

City Phone Alert Warning Trial

We ran a test of the city's emergency phone system starting at about 1:55 PM Monday Feb. 10. The idea was to simulate a warning of an emergency such as flooding to certain streets in Barron Park. Before the test I distributed advance notices of the test to almost all the homes on the test streets, so that people would be forewarned. This is a summary of how the emergency phone system worked and what to expect if the system is used in the future.

The streets called were the 700 and 800 blocks of Los Robles and El Centro. They were selected because homes along these streets are at some risk of flooding if Barron Creek over banks at Laguna. A canned test message was selected that noted this was a test, and if it had been a real alert there would be a notification to turn to certain radio stations such as KCBS for more detailed information. There are a number of canned messages. Depending upon the situation an appropriate message could be selected from the menu, or a special message could be recorded and sent. Only 1 of the 32 possible phone lines was used. The full set of phone lines only are used in a major real emergency.

The automated phone system dials every phone in the target area, listed and unlisted, voice, FAX, DSL or other. There are 74 addresses on the selected streets, including some with addresses on cross streets. For example, the homes at Arbol and Los Robles were called even though the addresses are on Arbol. These 74 homes had 230 phone numbers. The system was set to dial each number up to 3 times until it either was answered or was shown as not in service or answered as a FAX or data line. It can be set to dial only 1 or 2 times if desired, but calling at least twice is preferred. FAX and data lines were not redialed once they were identified by the calling system. If an answering machine answered, the alert system left the notice. After about 4.7 minutes the calls were completed. A total of 584 calls were placed. There were 3 lines that were busy so they were not notified. There were 58 addresses that answered calls either by someone picking up the phone or via answering machine, and 22 that did not respond. Some homes have more than 1 voice line, so the approximately 83 live voice phone lines is consistent with 74 addresses. The system shows the actual addresses called. Several were out of the test area, such as a phone on McGregor. This could have been forwarded to a business, or someone that was away might have forwarded calls to a nearby friend.

The system is fully operational, relatively easy and straightforward to activate and use, and could contact all 1200 homes in Barron Park in about 3.5 hours. The reason it might take that long is the calls are made to phones, not discrete addresses. If there is an average of 3+ phone lines/home, there would have to be about 3800 calls at a rate of 1000 calls/hour.

We still plan to use our phone and E-mail alert systems in case of flooding danger, but the city emergency phone alert system is an excellent way to notify far more people faster than any local phone tree could.