Halifax County residents or anyone desiring to get a clearer picture of weather conditions in the area now have a new tool to do so with the advent of a new emergency mass notification warning system.
Residents can sign up for the service at no cost on the Halifax County website at www.halifaxcountyva.gov and follow the prompts to sign up to receive important emergency notifications.
The vendor the county is using for the service is Everbridge, (formerly known as 3n Global and the National Notification Network), which sends messages via telephone, text message and email, but it stops once they know that a person has read a message.
Their system was used in 2012 to send over 10 million messages to residents during Hurricane Sandy.
During the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, the city of Boston used Everbridge for its critical communications, with Everbridge relaying information to business operators, employees, firefighters, hospital staff, police and residents after the explosions and during the lockdown of Boston, Watertown, Waltham and surrounding areas.
Implementation began about six weeks ago, according to Steve Dishman, emergency services coordinator for Halifax County.
Once users log into the address listed on the Halifax County website, they will be asked to submit a username and password, but more than that they will be able to select what type of warnings they receive and the times they want to receive them.
For instance, according to volunteer emergency services coordinator Becky Martin, a subscriber can ask not to be disturbed during certain times of the day, for instance at nighttime.
Dishman added that you can have quiet hours set, but if you have a warning for something particularly devastating, like a tornado in that area, it will override the setting and alert the subscriber.
Martin said the service can be customized to receive warnings or watches for everything from floods to severe thunderstorms to tornados.
Persons in different areas of the county can customize the service to receive warnings just for their specific area of the county.
Also the system can be used to alert residents via smartphone in specific areas about missing elderly people or children, according to Dishman.
People may sign up to receive updates about incoming weather at events such as the Halifax County Cantaloupe Festival, including last-second notification of parking alternatives.
“I remember the first cantaloupe festival at Berry Hill, where we had to park people at Daystrom because of rain,” recalled Martin. “This would be a quick way of short term notification.”
Martin recalled a concert planned for a venue near Raleigh, when concert-goers who had signed up for a similar system were warned of impending severe weather and advised admission to the event would be delayed.
Virginia Department of Transportation can use the system to alert subscribers to road closures, Dishman explained.
Previously, the county had used the Civic Ready program at a cost of $13,000 annually but decided to switch to Everbridge, “because it is a more comprehensive system in terms of capabilities not only for what the county can use it for, but how the user can apply it,” he added.
The cost of the Everbridge system, according to Dishman, is approximately $11,000 each year.