New weather alert system on the horizon

Published 1:20 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Plans are in store for an added dimension to the current digital weather alert system in Chilton County with the hopes of reaching a broader number of residents.

A current method of alerting individuals when severe weather is imminent is the use of sirens that are designed to sound throughout the county once an alert is triggered.

However, questions began to be raised by county commissioners concerning the conditions of the weather sirens in town. This came after several sirens were no longer in working condition.

Chilton County EMA director Derrick Wright devised an online survey in March 2015 so that he could gather a greater sense of the problems that faced the system that Chilton County relied upon.

He received 448 responses, and of those 46 percent said that they do not rely on the sirens, 31.6 percent could not hear the sirens and 22.4 percent acknowledged that they do rely and can hear the sirens.

According to Wright, it was found that about 77 percent could either not hear or did not rely upon them for warning.

“Three quarters of our population including the city of Clanton’s sirens are not properly being utilized,” Wright said. “That is not a very effective way of communicating the message to people.”

A digital application called “Ping4Alerts!” is already in place that warns of severe weather by texting or emailing residents who have joined the program through their smart phone capability.

The new proposed system will add on to the existing application, but will offer the alternative option of calling landlines for residents who do not have a smart phone.

“We still encourage people to use weather radios,” Wright said. “We may be able to save one more life by getting people aware that a storm may be coming.”

According to Wright, the old sirens will remain up and working for the time being. The plan is to eventually phase them out.

“Right now, we’re still in the creating phase, but we’re hoping to have it live within the first week of [2016],” Wright said. “They’re getting the site up, and then we are going to begin inputting [landline] phone numbers.”

According to Wright, the main priority of the new system will focus on the elderly that may rely on a landline as their contact. They should receive a phone call when severe weather is a threat.

There is also a website in the works that people will be able to visit with a designated feature that residents could view to see if there are any warnings that exist around the area at any time throughout the day.

“We’ve been sitting here working with them to come up with a program to be able to protect everybody,” Wright said. “We want to reach as many people as possible.”

According to Chilton County 911 Director Dan Wright, the proposed plan for people to sign up is for those interested to be directed to the eventual website. From there, they will follow the steps to enter a name, phone number and address into the system.

Wright was not sure how the process would handle residents without internet access who wish to apply through family members.