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CODE RED is part of a closely knit network of local government emergency response organizations that constitute the National Emergency Communications Network. Rarely does a single incident such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks activate the entire network.
Most emergencies are local and routinely handled but a few can rise to the level of an alert issued by the National Weather Service or police and fire departments. Some emergencies such as a derailed train carrying hazardous chemicals, polluted water supply or wildfire require a targeted, immediate response to the population in harm’s way.
CODE RED is an Internet based communication system that can segregate land areas and their populations based on any incident. It includes a secure GPS database of every listed telephone number referenced to a geographical location. The local agency can access all or some of those numbers simultaneously by segregating the area impacted by each incident.
Here’s how it works. Using the emergency site as ground zero a computer generated polygon that encompasses the impacted site and its potential expansion is drawn on a GPS map.
The polygon can be expanded or contracted to accommodate changes during the incident. Software identifies the telephone numbers within the polygon for targeted emergency messages and updates.
When Sandoval County activated CODE RED three years ago today during the 2011 Las Conchas fire wind speed and direction were factored into the creation of a large, cone-shaped polygon that fanned out from the ignition point toward Los Alamos.
Every landline telephone within the cone was autodialed with an evacuation message. But there was a problem.
“Not everyone in the area had a land line and cell service is sporadic,” says Dave Bervin, Sandoval County Emergency Manager. “So we still had to do a lot of door-to-door notification with the fire breathing down our necks.”
Fortunately, most residents in the area were spending that sunny, Sunday afternoon away from home. Also, Stage II fire restrictions imposed by the Santa Fe National Forest 48 hours earlier discouraged recreational activity in the area.
“The system worked but communication needed to extend beyond landlines to cellphones, work phones and other communication devices,” noted Bervin. “If the absent residents had registered their cell phones they would have received the message. Then they would have been able to call a neighbor’s landline to check on a family member or a pet.”
The proliferation of wireless communication has led to the decline in landlines and increased reliance on mobile devices. But the CODE RED database can initially access only those landlines registered with a telephone company.
“That’s why it is important that residents register their cell phones, business phones, second home phones and email accounts with CODE RED,” said Mike Scales, Sandoval County Communications Administrator. “People need to know if an emergency is endangering their home or is awaiting them on their return home.”
Scales said there are also free CODE RED mobile alert apps available that will provide updates to your phone if you happen to be traveling through an area that is under an alert.
“It happened to me when I was driving through Colorado during the fires last year,” he noted. “I received an alert to my cellphone as soon as I entered the area.”
Additional telephone numbers and email accounts can be registered for any area in the country by going to https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/BFB7CC4C6C0A . The registration includes an option for the hearing impaired.