By Richard Price/The Grafton Villager
Grafton—What if a flash rainstorm floods out a road, or an Amber Alert needs to reach persons in a certain area quickly? Emergencies happen swiftly and getting the word out to protect innocent people is critical to police and fire personnel.
According to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, a big step has been taken to speed up communication during emergencies with a new smartphone app that, when installed, will push urgent notices to those in a targeted area. “Ping 4 Alerts!” is a free app that when downloaded and activated will allow first responders to send out targeted alerts to people in Grafton and all of central Massachusetts.
“You tap a few buttons on your phone and you’re done,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis who also said the new smartphone app will replace the expensive and antiquated public safety communications system known as Reverse 911, which the county adopted in 2008 with $250,000 in federal funding. But Evangelidis also said recent federal budget cuts shifted more costs to the county. Then, when the Reverse 911 equipment was damaged during Hurricane Sandy, the decision to replace it was made.
Evangelidis said “Ping 4 Alerts!” cost $10,000 per year, with the entire cost being picked up by his department.
In Grafton, the new alert system will be an addition to a town-funded public safety communication system called Code Red. According to Ray Meade, the Town’s emergency management director, Code Red keeps a database of landline and cell phone numbers from Grafton residents who sign up, so owning a smartphone and downloading an app is not necessary. Meade said the service, which costs about $5,000 per year, is funded through the town budget.
Evangelidis said he’s glad communities like Grafton have Code Red, especially for those without a smartphone, but recommends people sign up for both. “This will offer another level of protection,” he said. “If, God forbid, the Town of Grafton can’t afford it anymore, we will have a system free of charge.”
But Evangelidis also said Code Red doesn’t offer the sophistication of “Ping 4 Alerts!” In a press release, his office described the new system as “real-time emergency messaging to an individual’s iPhone or Android smartphone in a geographically defined area.”
Once the app is downloaded there is no need to sign up for the service. It tracks your location with a global positioning system tagged from your cell phone or Wi Fi signal. Then the emergency area can be drawn on a map as narrow as a parking space or as wide as the entire county. If the phone you are carrying is within the map, you get an alert.
“It makes sense for Grafton residents to have both because Code Red doesn’t travel with you,” Evangelidis said.