GREENVILLE — It’s now easier than ever for Greene County residents to get the latest updates during emergency situations including floods, winter storms, Amber alerts, and missing persons cases, thanks to the recently activated Code Red Emergency Alert System.
Code Red allows Greene County Emergency Management Services more options to pass on alerts to residents faster by phone, email, social media outlets, and even text messaging.
Dan King of the Greene County Emergency Management Services presented the ins and outs of the system to Greenville residents and town officials during last Monday’s Town Council meeting.
King said the rapid change in the way people seek out information about severe weather and other emergencies necessitated the change in the way the county gets information out to the public during emergencies.
“It used to be everyone listened to the radio,” he said. “Today it’s much more fragmented, with some people seeking out information online, others using cell phones, and others using landline phones.”
After Tropical Storm Irene devastated Greene County in 2011, county officials realized they needed to come up with a better way of getting crucial information out to residents during emergencies, King said.
That’s where Code Red comes in.
While short of being a full reverse 911 system, Code Red, a brand name for the system the county purchased, gives county officials many options to reach residents when an emergency situation arises, he said.
The most common way officials send out an alert is to use a digital map that looks very similar to maps on websites like Google. Officials can click on the map and create a radius to send out alerts that range in size from one neighborhood for events like a hazmat spill to the entire county for a severe winter storm, he said.
“We could send the alerts to one house if we wanted to,” King said.
King said the system worked well when alerts were sent out to residents after an patient with Alzheimer’s recently went missing in the Jewett area.
Officials have other options for targeting their alerts including sending alerts to a specific town or village, he added.
King was impressed with a recent countywide test of the system where all alerts were sent out in about 20 minutes.
“That’s very fast,” he said. “Speed is very important when we are trying to alert people to a rapidly changing situation.”
He noted the only issue with the test arose in Coxsackie where the phone exchange system was overwhelmed by the number of simultaneous calls.
Perhaps the most important thing about Code Red is that it allows officials to deliver the same information to all people affected by an emergency to avoid people getting conflicting information from different sources, King said.
As for signing up for Code Red, it depends on how a person receives their telephone service.
If you have a traditional landline you are already signed up, King said.
People who want alerts on their cell phone, or are using a voice over Internet phone from a cable company or other providers like Vonage or Magic Jack, have to sign up for the alerts.
There are several options for people to sign up.
The easiest option is to go to the Greene County website at http://greenegovernment.com/, scroll to the bottom and click the Code Red banner at the bottom, King said. From there users can put in their information and their preferred phone numbers to receive calls and texts, along with their email address for email alerts.
For those who would rather sign up over the phone, they can give Greene County Emergency Management Services a call at 518-622-3643.
Paper forms are also available in the Greenville Town Hall for non-internet users who would prefer to fill out a paper application.
King also urged residents to sign up for NY-Alert at www.nyalert.gov, a similar system that provides emergency and traffic alerts statewide.
Greenville Officials are impressed with the new system.
Greenville Town Supervisor Paul Macko praised the system, and he encouraged residents to sign up.
He said he particularly likes the way the system makes it easier for town officials to hold conference calls to better prepare for forecasted events that could create emergencies like ice storms and severe storms.
Andrew Scirico of the Greenville Fire Department says the Code Red system makes it easier for him and his colleagues to respond to emergency situations.
“Getting knowledge out to people faster allows us to do our jobs more efficiently,” he said.
In other business, town officials were notified by the state that this year’s tax cap would be 1.66 percent.
The tax cap is not always two percent, Macko told the board.
“The tax cap actually takes into account inflation and other factors so it can be lower than two percent,” he said. “We are doing everything possible to stay under that number.”
While town officials are trying to stay under the 1.66 percent cap, they were still considering what would need to be done in case they needed an override.
“Sometimes the state’s math ends up coming out with different numbers than ours,” Macko said. “We don’t want to get penalized by the state if we come close to the cap and they calculate our numbers to be slightly over.”