By Mark Haranas/The Gardner News
WORCESTER — The Worcester Country’s Sheriff’s office is urging all residents to download its free mobile app, which provides emergency notifications and can even turn on a phone or override mute settings during critical, life-threatening emergencies.
“Anyone in the Greater Gardner area can download the app for free and be traveling in Fitchburg and quickly be notified if there’s a bomb scare, an Amber Alert, a tornado like we had this week if it’s happening in Fitchburg — it travels with you wherever you go,” said Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis. “They used it for the Boston Marathon bombings, especially in Watertown, and it was extremely successful … We’re the first sheriff’s department in New England to utilize this.”
The sheriff’s department entered a $10,000, three-year contract with Ping4 Inc. to deploy a new, free public safety alert system for all residents of Worcester County.
The new Ping4 Citizens Alert app uses state-of-the-art, location-based technology in smart phones to provide the most precise, hyperlocal and highly targeted information to notify residents of an impending or existing public safety emergency.
“If you lost your dog, we wouldn’t put it out there,” said Mr. Evangelidis. “If it involves safety for people in Worcester County, we have 24/7 coverage here that will get information sent out like a text message.”
People can set preferences to receive instant alerts and multimedia messages about various situations, such as major traffic accidents nearby with alternative route information, severe weather about to affect a specific area, missing child alerts, criminal activity warnings in a neighborhood, power outages or school closings.
In the event of critical emergencies, the app will “wake up” a phone, override mute setting and ensure the user receives the important message.
Ping4alerts was used by state public agencies during the active manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in April. By creating a “geo-fence” around a specific area of Watertown, citizens were alerted of the situation and advised to stay in their homes, said Mr. Evangelidis.
“What we’re trying to do is offer a great public safety app for mobile smartphones,” he said.
Mr. Evangelidis said the efforts to contract Ping4 Inc. resulted from the homeland security grants received after the end of the Reverse 911 landline system.
“We didn’t want to leave a hole after Reverse 911 was done, and this seems like a really good start to replace that,” the sheriff said.
The app works over GPS, cellular networks and Wi-Fi hotspots in order to avoid tapping into data plans or draining smartphone batteries. Privacy is 100-percent protected, and no personal information is ever required.
“We now have the most effective and efficient public safety communications available to instantly provide important public safety alerts and information to better serve and protect our citizens,” said Mr. Evangelidis.
“We can now instantly notify citizens of Worcester County about existing local dangers and emergency situation where having immediate information could make the difference between life or death.”