In the wake of a shocking shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school on Friday, Dec. 14, officials are trying to reunite parents with their children. They had help from a reverse 911 call, which automatically went out to parents of the public school students to notify them about the shooting.
They used an emergency notification system similar to CodeRed, used in Jefferson County. In fact, thousands of communities across the country have signed up for CodeRed, often described as a "reverse 911" service. Owned by Emergency Communications Network, this company provides automated emergency weather alerts sent to residents by text, phone or email, as well as alerts from city officials about gas leaks, crime sprees, power outages and missing people.
To sign up for CodeRed in Jefferson County, simply fill out this form.
It has not been without controversy, however. Branson, MO, recently ended its contract over a dispute related to the February 2012 "Leap Day" tornado.
Most of the 900 Branson residents who had signed up for alerts never got them, KSPR reported. ECN blamed the mishap on the city of Branson, saying it failed to renew its contract on time.
"Ultimately, this was a contract problem," Stephanie Meyers, marketing manager for ECN, told Patch in a statement. "Their agreement was terminated, resulting in a lapse of service."
This week, Branson city officials announced their decision to switch to Everbridge, a competitor of CodeRed.
How CodeRed Works
Services like CodeRed are called "reverse 911" because they allow an agency to automatically call people in the 911 database in their community. Once contracted, CodeRed has access to the database, so any residents listed there are automatically signed up for voice alerts. Residents who are not listed in the database or don’t have a landline, or those who want to register for text or email alerts, have to proactively sign up.
The service, which allows users to choose how and when they want to be notified of emergencies, costs communities between $6,000 to $10,000 a year—and that’s a great deal for some.
How It’s Worked in Other Communities
In some places it’s billed as a money saver: The city of Green River, WY is considering switching to CodeRed because its current emergency notification system hadn’t been operational for two months. The cost to keep the old system running was $160,000, while a contract with CodeRed would cost $7,010 a year—with a promise to drop to $5,916 a year if neighboring towns also adopted the system, according to the Green River Star.
CodeRed is owned by Emergency Communications Network, an Ormond Beach, FL-based company that was founded in 1999. In the past six weeks, Emergency Communications Network has secured at least six contracts, ranging from $7,000 a year to $53,000 a year, with government agencies.
Arnold Editor Sheri Gassaway contributed to this report.