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County to move forward with new emergency alert program



NASHVILLE – Howard County and its municipalities will soon begin participation in Emergency Communication Network’s CodeRed alert system.

Justices of the Peace and a group of area mayors gave tacit approval to the measure last month, but ultimately tabled it over questions about whether the county’s 911 fund could be used to cover its portion of the bill. County Judge Kevin Smith opened and closed discussion on that subject in fewer than five minutes during Monday’s quorum court meeting, telling JPs that not only could the money be used, but doing so would not require their authorization.
Membership in the program will cost just under $10,000 in its first year, half of which is expected to be covered by a grant acquired by Emergency Management Director Sonny Raulerson. The remaining amount will be divided among the county and each incorporated township according to population, with Dierks paying $398.52, Nashville shelling out $1,626.11, Mineral Springs contributing $424.69 and Tollette becoming responsible for $84.38. The remaining $2,313.64 would be picked up by the county, while a one-time website setup fee of $500 would be split equally between each entity.
The program will provide the capacity for services ranging from location-based weather warnings to missing persons alerts, each of which would go out to anyone who signed up to receive them.
According to the company’s regional sales manager, Jill Mason, the alerts could be delivered in the form of text messages, social media alerts or old-fashioned phone calls and would be automatically triggered in the event of severe weather. Alternatively, local officials could manually create warnings or announcements for events including boil orders, changes in the trash pickup schedule, gas leaks or scam alerts.
A total of 12 counties in Arkansas are already participating in the program, including Pike County, which adopted it in 2011. Austen Walls, who oversees emergency management for that county, said the system works as advertised, but is ultimately only as good as the number of people who choose to participate.
“It’s good. It’s a good system – if you can get people to sign up on it,” Walls said. “That’s the main thing is you have to have people sign up.”
In unrelated news from Monday’s quorum court meeting, JPs approved an ordinance allowing the county to do business with Greg Westfall, contractor and husband of Laurie Westfall, who is overseeing a small-scale remodel of the county’s district court office. Greg Westfall will be performing construction work on a set of cabinets at the facility, according to County Judge Kevin Smith, assuming his bid on the job is “reasonable.”

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