October 21, 2014

Creating a statewide “reverse 911″ system for emergencies

The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would create a new state fund to help finance a statewide emergency messaging system. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, says the goal is to ensure the latest technology is in place to be used in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“Currently 53 counties use some form of mass notification and emergency messaging systems,” Petersen says. “…The cost of the 53 systems is more than $600,000 per year.”

The other 46 Iowa counties have no electronic warning system in place, relying on local broadcasters and weather radios to spread emergency messages.  The estimated cost of a statewide emergency messaging system is about $400,000 a year and the governor has included that figure in his state budget outline.

“The system would be an ‘opt in’ system for local governments. It’s not a mandate and administration of the system would occur at the local level through emergency management commissions,” Petersen says.

Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, says by pooling resources, this will help some Iowa communities save money on these so-called “reverse 911″ systems.

“And take advantage of all the wonderful, new technologies that we use in many ways for leisure and entertainment, but this could also be used for public safety good — Facebook, Twitter and all the other forms of social media,” Danielson says.

The cell numbers, web addresses and Twitter handles used in these emergency notification systems are to be kept confidential by the state and local governments, plus the bill offers an even more specific protection, saying all that information “shall not be sold” to anyone.

The bill has to be considered by the Iowa House and signed by the governor before it becomes law.