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Cleaning up the county CodeRED system

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Notifications: Register now with fire season underway

By Whitney Jones

As part of a test of Los Alamos County’s emergency all-call notification system late last month nearly 12,000 calls were made, but County Emergency Management Specialist Phil Taylor said some of those numbers aren’t in use anymore or go to fax machines and other devices.

“We don’t need to have that thing in our database,” he said.

County residents’ home phone numbers have either been entered automatically in the Florida-based CodeRED system through commercially available data sources or residents have signed up themselves, and some of those numbers have been in the system since after the Cerro Grande fire in 2000.

But Taylor said the unused numbers can slow down the system even though he said the time lost is likely negligible.

“We’re kind of lucky because the total number that we have in this system is 12,000,” he said. “That’s tiny compared to (Los Angeles) or Albuquerque or Santa Fe.”

Even so, Taylor said it’s about efficiency and the database needs to be purged of those unused numbers. He said a system that would make the fewest number of calls, but reach the highest number of people would be ideal.

Taylor said it’s also rare that the county would do an all-system notification and that calls to particular geographic regions would likely take place in the case of an emergency.

CodeRED Director of Operations Tom Ferrugia said 11,985 calls were made that day within a 20-minute period, which he said isn’t illustrative of the system’s speed because those numbers that weren’t initially reached were called back several times.

He said those numbers that weren’t reachable have been set aside and are called routinely to see if the call is eventually answered. If not, he said the numbers are discarded.

Taylor also said should there be a power outage associated with an emergency, some people who rely only on a landline phones could wind up stranded without the use of it. That’s why he said it’s important for people to take some personal responsibility and sign up their email accounts and cell phone numbers with the CodeRED system through the services and emergency management tab on the Los Alamos County website.

“There’s no one magic bullet,” Taylor said.

But the more paths of communication a person registers to receive emergency notifications, the more likely they’ll actually get the notification, he said.

Ferrugia also stressed the importance of people who don’t use landlines, which is about 30 percent of the country, to register an alternative number.

And while the land line CodeRED system is for county residents, Ferrugia said non-residents can sign up to get notifications via a free “app” for iPhones and Android phones if they’re in the Los Alamos area.

The county has contracted with CodeRED since November of last year.

“It does work and it can be a very effective tool,” Taylor said. “Citizens have to take some responsibility to really make it all it can be and the best way to do that is to register your stuff.”