New system expected to reach thousands of smart phones

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis holds up the sheriff’s office’s newest warning system, Ping4alerts, which will take the place of the traditional reverse 911 calls.

Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis holds up the sheriff’s
office’s newest warning system, Ping4alerts, which will take the
place of the traditional reverse 911 calls.

By Joy Richard/ The Southbridge Evening News

Reverse 911 calls are slipping out of vogue, as cost-effective phone apps are now providing emergency alert services. In a world where the weather is ever changing and the social climate has been rockier than ever, the Worcester County Sheriff ’s Office has recently unveiled their new system of public warnings. Sheriff Lew Evangelidis sat down to speak about the “Ping4alerts” app on Tuesday, July 2, at his West Boylston office.

He said the new way of communicating with residents is cost effective to the department and citizens, it’s a free app on any smart phone, and it can get multiple messages out to people no matter their location. According to the Ping4alerts web site, the app specializes in “mobile notifications,” is comprised of “two components.”

A public safety organization with a Ping4alerts license will transmit the warning message to an mobile phone user with the app who has WiFi/GPS capabilities.

“Senders log in to a secure web portal to create, target and send alerts. Receivers simply download the free Ping4alerts app and select their categories of interest,” reads the website. “After downloading the free app and accepting its terms and conditions, the end user need only turn on location-based services to receive alerts anywhere in the world.” Evangelidis said he is excited to utilize the new technology and replace the former reverse 911 system that was damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy. He added that Homeland Security originally funded the system in 2008 and it was land-based. Evangelidis said after the damaged occurred funding was taken away, and this new system was acquired.

“It will enhance public safety,” said Evangelidis. “Massachusetts Emergency Management Association (MEMA) have been utilizing it for the last year or so, they used it very successful in the Boston Marathon bombing case where they notified a geo-fenced area in Watertown.”
Evangelidis referenced the “geo-fencing” technique as a way to alert people when they are approaching an area with a high risk attached to it. He said as long as they have Wi-Fi or GPS they will be able to know where the danger or potential bad weather is.

We will definitely be using it for anything that can be affiliated with public safety,” said Evangelidis. “We didn’t want to leave the county without any type of ability for us to assist with public notifications.”

He added that the Worcester County office is the first in New England to use the new system. He said over the past several months, many of the bugs, which have plagued the system since its inception in 2012, have been worked out. Evangelidis said this includes multiple alerts of the same event. When asked what people would do if they did not have a smart phone, he said that is being looked into in the interim, and that as a back up most communities have a reverse 911 call system in place to warn its specific residents of local turmoil.

In Dudley, Police Chief Steven Wojnar said while he has heard of the new system though the Ping app, the town already utilizes the Code Red reverse 911 system to inform residents of townwide issues. “We have had it for about six months now,” said Wojnar about Code Red. “I think [the Ping] technology is what is in the future, but right now it would only reach a certain part of the population.”

In Oxford, Police Chief Michael Hassett said he has the Ping application on his smart phone and has been impressed with the technology and its capabilities. He added that Oxford also utilizes Code Red and will be using its services during the town’s tercentennial celebration weekend. “I do like it,” Hassett said about Ping4alerts. “I am sure we will sit down at some point [with the sheriff] and see what is what [about the program].”

Joy Richard may be reached at
508-909-4129 or by email at
jrichard@stonebridgepress.com.