The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management rolled out a new statewide electronic notification and emergency messaging system today at the department’s annual conference in Des Moines.
Audio: Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson reports :68
State Homeland Security Department director, Mark Schouten, says the new “Iowa Alert System” was developed after the state learned 53 counties were paying for a system, 31 had no system, and 15 others were using a free system.
Governor Terry Branstad joined Schouten to send out the first message to the county emergency management directors in the audience and their cellphones immediately started beeping. Schouten says the system was developed by the federal Homeland Security agency and is known as the Integrated Public Alert And Warning System or IPAAWS.
County officials will be able to send out localized alerts and Schouten says the state will also be able to send state alerts that will be accompanied by a warning buzzer if there is an “imminent threat.” “It’s loud, it is obnoxious. I think it is made that way to get your attention,” Schouten says of the warning signal.
The Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstand approved $400,000 to get the system going. “As I’e seen this system developed, it is confirmed that it will be a vital mechanism for local governments to provide safety and other important information to your residents,” Branstad says. Schouten says 34 counties have signed up for the system, and he says they hope to eventually have all 99 signed up for the new system with the state is providing for free.
“I think that’s one of the attractions of the system, we hope to get all the counties on the same messaging system, it’ll be free to the counties, free to the cities, free to the schools within that county,” Schouten says. “They’ll all be allowed to use it on a subscription base. The county coordinators will be able to send out those FEMA wireless emergency alerts.”
The system allows users to be very specific in sending out messages. Schouten cited the example of how one county coordinator used it already to find a man who had some mental health issues. “He left without permission from a hospital and they wanted to take him back into custody,” Schouten explains. “So they drew a circle on a map and messaged the people just within that circle, and within minutes, two or three people called up law enforcement and said ‘here he is he’s walking down our street.'”
Schouten says it’s an investment that helps all Iowans. “I think it’s such an effective tool that we are compelled to do it. I think it will end up saving lives,” according to Schouten. “There are just so many events in Iowa that we have not a lot of notice, but some notice. And if we can give that notice to the people who are affected by those disasters, then they are better able to take steps to preserve their own safety.”
Schouten says some counties still have contracts with the providers of their current service and they expect them to sign up with the new system once those contracts expire. He says the cost of the system should come down to around $300,000 a year once all counties are signed up.
The counties now signed up to use the system are: Black Hawk, Winnesheik, Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Cedar, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Washington, Louisa, Henry, Marion, Warren, Clarke, Ringgold, Decatur, Wayne, Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Humboldt, Webster, Clay, Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Gutherie, Adair, Cass, Pottawattamie, Harrison, Shelby, Woodbury.