KINGWOOD — Preston County is now offering everyone free alerts by text, voice, email or pager on everything from boil water alerts to flooding.
The Wireless Emergency Notification System (WENS) is being provided through the Preston Office of Emergency Management (OEM)/911. Since it went online Jan. 14, more than 380 people have signed on.
“It’s very customizable. The simplicity of it is great. I think it’s an awesome thing,” said Preston OEM/911 Director Duane Hamilton.
WENS replaces earlier alert systems that cost more and provided less service, Hamilton said. The county previously used reverse 911 and City Watch. Reverse 911 only tied land lines to addresses.
“So this actually takes your cell phone now and ties it to your address,” Hamilton said. “So that if [for example] we have a HAZMAT spill and you’re inside that plume area, you’ll get the call. Before you would have gotten it on your land line but you wouldn’t have gotten on your cell phone.”
City Watch required 911 to pay for eight phone lines annually and “a very expensive maintenance fee.” It was also slow, Hamilton said. WENS can sent 600 texts per second.
“What we’ve tested so far, within 10 seconds of when we pushed the message, you’ve got it,” he said.
WENS is a product of Inspiron Logistics. Six or so counties in West Virginia are using WENS.
When signing up, users can select how they want to receive notifications, what types of notifications they want — weather, police or water system, for example — and even limit what hours they will receive weather alerts to 6 a.m.-11 p.m., rather than 24/7.
When signing up, a Preston County 911 address must be used, not a rural route. But you need not live in Preston County to sign up.
“Say if you lived in Baltimore, you put your name, your phone number, your Mom’s or your relative’s address. Then, if anything happens around their house, you would get the information,” Hamilton said.
There is also a place to note if people at the address have special needs, such as kidney dialysis or use an electric oxygen condenser.
“We’re really excited about this,” Hamilton said. “Let’s say it was like [Hurricane] Sandy, when all the roads were closed down, we can send a message out to the people who have marked dialysis and say ‘Are you able to get out? Respond yes or no, and if you can, tell us the day you need to get out.’ Then we can start working on that immediately.”
You can sign up for more than one address. And land phone lines can be listed, but the only option for receiving notices on them is by voice.
Among the groups that users can join are the sheriff’s. Police might, for example, want to alert people of a missing child or adult. Water systems, fire departments and others are also using the system.
Senders can draw a line around the area on the map, encircling the area that they want to target. Then the message will only be sent to addresses in that area.
Administrators can see how many messages of every type were sent out, how many were received and even if recipients hung up on an alert.
WENS cost the county about $3,500 the first year and about $5,000 subsequent years. That’s about a quarter of the previous alert systems.
And the information people provide is kept confidential, Hamilton said. “It’s very secure. You don’t want your number out there. It’s not every going to be sold or shared.”
Sign up for the Wireless Emergency Notification System in Preston County by following the link at http://preston911.com.