Broadcast notification plans utilized during flood period

By Matthew J. Perry
During the heavy rains of late July, the threat of flooding hovered over much of the Catskills—and a new automated phone service made sure that residents had the word. Delaware County has a grant-funded contract with Hyper-Reach, a Rochester broadcast notification service that provides software and phone banks that can reach thousands of households in the event or threat of any emergency.
The service went into action last Wednesday after heavy rains had already swelled county streams. After conference calls with weather services, county emergency officials feared that flooding, which had already occurred in Andes and Colchester, could become widespread. An alert was sent to those towns in the afternoon, and by evening a second warning was sent to residents in 12 other municipalities.
“We can [record] a message, send it to the company, and their phone banks call numbers selected from our database,” said 911 Coordinator Steve Finch. The database can sort by municipality or street address, depending on the location of the emergency. In the case of Wednesday evening, 23,859 household phones were selected to be contacted by the Hyper-Reach automated system.
“The contact was initiated at 7:30 p.m.,” said Finch. The flood warnings were sent to county households at a rate of 200 to 300 per minute. The 585 area code as its origin, the message confused some residents with caller ID; 585 serves the Rochester area, where the Hyper-Reach facilities are located.
By 10 p.m., updated information from the weather services showed a drop-off of severe weather, and the phone calls were discontinued. Only about half of the selected numbers had been called by then; the order of the calls is random. “That’s why your neighbor might have gotten a call and you didn’t,” Finch explained.
The county is trying to be selective in its use of the service. “We don’t want to scare anyone to death, of course, but it’s important to get information out there. This would have been an ideal tool, for example, when [State Trooper Matthew Gombosi] was shot in Margaretville. We could have called homes in that area to let them know a bad guy was out there,” said Finch.
Finch stated that emergency services had received a great deal of positive feedback about the system. Delaware County’s contract with Hyper-Reach will expire in 2009, and DCES will recommend a renewal, either through another grant or with county funds. The cost of the service is approximately $20,000 a year, according to Finch.
“We’re excited,” he told the Catskill Mountain News. “This is a great notification system and we’re hopeful the people of Delaware County will want to continue using it.”