Merced system notifies county residents in emergencies

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comNovember 14, 2012 

— In an emergency, every minute is critical to agencies trying to communicate with residents.

A new Merced County emergency notification system will provide just that, providing nearly instant communication with people who are living in six cities.

"The system can make a difference and save lives by alerting people of emergencies or important community alerts in an efficient and timely manner," said Ed Banks, the deputy director for Merced County Office of Emergency Services.

The cities of Merced, Atwater, Los Banos, Livingston, Gustine and Dos Palos will join forces under the new system -- streamlining the communication process and improving response times for emergency agencies.

Dos Palos Police Chief Barry Mann said the system is a big advancement for cities that may not have the manpower to communicate with all residents.

"In the smaller communities, we have a lower level of funding, so to be able to establish this communication ability through the county is a godsend." Mann said. "And we think this is a great avenue to let residents know when there are concerns in the community."

The Dos Palos Police Department has operated an emergency communication system such a the new county service in the past, but it was discontinued in 2009 because of the high cost of running it. The department has since relied on its Facebook page to send messages to the community.

The Livingston Police Department's communication records manager, Deanna Soria, said the system provides grouping options, which will allow notifications to be sent to city employees or citizens -- or both, if necessary.

"I think it's wonderful how we're all regionally networked and able to set up our groups," Soria said. "It's so user-friendly, the same message can go out with one click. If there is a major emergency, we're going to be able to notify everybody within minutes."

For the first time, the system will allow residents to select the method of communication they prefer -- cell phone, work phone, e-mail, fax or text messaging.

In the past, notifications would be sent to listed landline phone numbers.

Residents can add or update their contact information and select preferred methods of communication by visiting www.co.merced.ca.us/alert. All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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