Sheriff replaces Reverse 911 system with smartphone alerts

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis holds a smartphone with the Ping4 App that will notify people of local safety emergencies.

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis holds a smartphone with the Ping4 App that will notify people of local safety emergencies.

By Linda Bock TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
lbock@telegram.com

WEST BOYLSTON —  Grab your smartphone, there’s a new app in town.

Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis recently replaced the Reverse 911 notification system with what he said is a much speedier and more efficient public safety notification system called Ping4alerts. The mobile alert communications system was designed to instantly notify citizens about local public safety emergencies such as missing persons, severe weather, traffic situations, natural disasters and fast-moving emergencies.

“If we had a Marathon bomber in Worcester County, I’d want to be able to notify people,” Sheriff Evangelidis said, and be able to send real-time updates. He said alerts can be sent out in the same time it takes to send an email or text alert. “This really focuses on public safety.”

Created by Ping4 Inc., the new Ping4 citizens alert app uses state of the art “geo-fencing” technology in combination with location-based technology found on smartphones to provide the most precise, hyperlocal and highly targeted information to notify individuals of an impending or existing public safety emergency.

“Your privacy and identity are 100 percent protected,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.

Although the Worcester County sheriff’s office is the first sheriff’s office in New England to implement the new alert system, it has been used by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency since October 2012, as well as a number of local law enforcement agencies in the region.

“The old Reverse 911 was implemented in 2008, and it was getting antiquated and I believe, under-utilized,” Sheriff Evangelidis said.

Reverse 911 launched in partnership with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission. The initial federal funding for the equipment was $250,000. The monthly charges were approximately $4,000, not including maintenance and staff.

“Considering the declining funds from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the number of towns who have decided to go with their own alert system, the council voted to ease our support for an alert system effective June 30, 2013,” the Central Mass. Regional Planning Commission wrote on May 14, 2012.

Prior to making that decision, the council received quotes on replacement-upgrade equipment and annual “hosting” costs for the service. Quotes ranged from $75,000 to $250,000 per year.

Sheriff Evangelidis said a roof leak during Superstorm Sandy irreparably damaged the aging system, and the decision was made not to replace the Reverse 911 system and to go with the Ping4 public safety system.

Sheriff Evangelidis said the Reverse 911 system was very popular post-9-11.

He signed a three-year contract for $30,000, or $10,000 per year. There is no monthly cost to the public, and the Ping4 Public Safety mobile phone app is free and can be downloaded at www.worcestercountysheriff.com or www.ping4.com.

“To me, that was just a great investment,” Sheriff Evangelidis said. “It takes only 30 seconds to download, and it travels with you.”

The technology also has the ability to wake up a phone in the case of an extreme emergency with a public safety audio alert. By working over GPS, cellular networks and Wi-Fi hot spots, citizen alerts will not tap data plan minutes or place undue strain on smartphone batteries. In addition, Ping4 safety alerts are universal, providing the user geo-specific emergency information locally, regionally, nationally or globally to help keep them safe wherever they travel.

For example, if someone were traveling through Worcester and there was a serious accident with detours on Interstate 290, the app would alert them.

Sheriff Evangelidis said the new communications system has been installed and all the kinks have been worked out, so people will not be bombarded with alerts.

“I don’t want to inundate the people of Worcester county with unnecessary or annoying texts,” he said.

The only potential negative to the new alert system, the sheriff said, was that some people do not have smartphones. Sheriff Evangelidis said the pros outweighed the cons, so the switch was made.

“This is the future,” Sheriff Evangelidis said. “This is actually a better product at a much lower cost.”

Contact Linda Bock via email at lbock@telegram.com. Follow her on Twitter @LindaBockTG.