By Matt Tota/Daily News staff
Milford Daily News
WEST BOYLSTON —The Worcester County Sheriff’s office has adopted a new emergency alert system that, at the click of a mouse, can send warning messages to all smartphones in a targeted area.
Ping4alerts!, a free app created by the New Hampshire-based mobile communication company, Ping4 Inc., replaces the antiquated Reverse 911 system, which Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis said became “untenable.”
Federal funding for Reverse 911 dried up and upgrading the system cost too much, Evangelidis said Tuesday, speaking in his office at the Worcester County House of Correction.
And Ping4 had proven itself a better alternative.
Using the system, he said, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency sent alerts to all cellphones in the Watertown area during the tense search for Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“People driving into the Watertown area were alerted that there was a public safety emergency going on,” Evangelidis said. “That’s a great thing.”
The app — through GPS — allows the Sheriff’s office to highlight a specific area on a map in which to broadcast alerts. Public safety officials in Worcester County can also use the system free of charge, sending their messages, such as road closings notifications, to the Sheriff’s office.
“We can instantaneously send those messages out to all Ping4 users, and we can determine how big of an area we want to send them to,” said Evangelidis, the first sheriff in New England to deploy the system. “We can send them to as large an area as Worcester County or as small an area as a parking space.”
The technology is called “geo-fencing.” Taking the location data from a cellphone, the app sends alerts to a cellphone that has crossed into a virtual perimeter.
Evangelidis said the app is “100 percent secure.” “You don’t give your name or any personal information when you sign up for this,” he said. “This is not big government intrusion.”
He added, “It’s just a warning device to alert you. It uses all of the technology out there in a positive way to keep us safer.”
Kimberly Roy, director of external affairs for the Worcester County Sheriff’s office, said Tuesday that area police and fire departments have already expressed interest in using Ping4 as another option to their local notification system.
A downloadable alert form for public safety officials to fill out and then send will soon be available on The Sheriff’s office website, worcestercountysheriff.com. The app itself can be downloaded at www.ping4.com.
Evangelidis’s office will have Ping4 in place for three years at a total cost of $30,000.
“To me this is a great investment,” he said. “Replacing something that was hundreds of thousands of dollars, underutilized and getting to be antiquated with something that is a fraction of the cost, moves with you and is, I think, a better alert system.”
Matt Tota can be reached at 508-634-7521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.