Residents in the Springfield area can now sign up to have alerts about severe weather and other emergencies sent right to their phone.
The city received a $10,000 grant to set up the new system. The money comes through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which distributes federal funds to city and county governments for public safety programs and disaster preparedness tools.
This federal grant money goes straight to the private sector – to a technology firm based in Idaho that runs the website MyStateUSA.com (MSUSA). Through the site, residents can input their zip code to have alerts specific to that targeted area sent to them via text message.
Landline home phones can also receive voice alerts, but Mayor Mike Houston says cell phones are so widely used in Springfield, it’s those devices that are best for delivering information when time is scarce:
HOUSTON: “[During severe] weather situations, potential disaster situations. The major goal of this is really to prevent injury or death. And the best way to do that is to be able to communicate with the general public, so that when something happens or is about to happen, people can take steps to keep themselves safe.”
The text message system, known as AlertSense, isn’t perfect. The company running it can’t guarantee messages will be sent in time – or at all, for that matter. It relies on a huge network of computers and wireless telephone carriers, both systems that can fail during severe weather or other disasters.
According to Wisconsin emergency management officials (who already use the MSUSA text message system) the alerts are “very intrusive”. An incoming message will interrupt a phone conversation and drop a call.