Disasters spark urgency to refine local rapid notification system

In the face of disaster, an official “heads up” could be key for people and communities to get out of harm’s way.

After wildfires swept through neighborhoods throughout California – killing more than 40 people and leaving thousands homeless – Colusa County Health & Human Services has decided to amp up efforts to be able to contact residents, if need be, to warn them of danger.

The agency is asking the public to take a few minutes to sign on to the county’s Emergency Preparedness Rapid Notify system, said Ted Mamoulelis, emergency preparedness coordinator for Colusa County Public Health, because the lives saved could be their own.

“Rapid Notify is a mass notification system,” Mamoulelis said. “This allows you to receive information from Colusa County in the event of an emergency.”

Fire, floods, chemical spills, and other hazards are just a few of the occasions where advanced warning might be able to make a difference between life and death, Mamoulelis said.

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors, in 2016, contracted with Rapid Notify, an Irvine-based company, to provide local public health officials with an easy-to-use, web-based emergency notification system they could use to send alerts to large groups of people.

Mamoulelis said the system is capable of simultaneously sending an alert to all Colusa County residents over communication platforms such as email, telephone, cell phone, SMS text message, pager and PDA.

The county paid $5,430 for the system, with an approximate annual cost of about $5,000 per year, which was funded by the California Department of Public Health’s budget.

Prior to Rapid Notify, Colusa County had no other permanent public safety mass notification system, such as Reverse 911, Mamoulelis said.

Although implementation of a mass notification system is required for the county to receive state public health funds, Colusa County officials said the ability to send alerts like evacuation notices during server weather, a major gas leak, a disease outbreak, and other emergency situations is an important component in helping to keep Colusa County residents safe and informed.

Rapid Notify also gives county officials the ability to target-notify specific locations, should an emergency occur that affects only certain areas, as well as provide a hot-line number for the public to call to get additional information on an emergency.

In order to receive emergency notifications, the public must first register and specify how they want to be notified, whether phone call, text, email, or all.

“It’s entirely confidential,” Mamoulelis said. “You are not required to leave your name.”

Colusa County Public Health’s goal is to sign up all residents or households by Nov. 16, when the county will hold a mass drill of the Rapid Notify system.

Those who have signed up for notification will receive an alert on that day, Mamoulelis said.

“It is just a test,” he said. “Those who receive the alert will not need to respond.”

Other than a drill, residents will only receive information from Colusa County in the event of an emergency.

For more information about Rapid Notify, visit www.countyofcolusa.org/rapidnotifyinformation. To sign up for the alerts, visit www.countyofcolusa.org/rapidnotifyregister.