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March 22, 2011 > Regional effort for emergency notifications

Regional effort for emergency notifications

Officials announce new SMS number to gain broad community participation

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Laurel Anderson

The 8.8 magnitude [now upgraded to 9.0] earthquake and Tsunami that struck Japan are potent reminders of the importance of receiving disaster alerts. Amidst growing concerns about the number of households that rely exclusively on cell phones, Santa Clara County and City of San Jose officials, with international and community partners, have revealed a new easy-to-use SMS text number to facilitate sign up for the regional mass notification system - AlertSCC.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately a quarter of American households had only wireless telephones during the second half of 2009. The AlertSCC system is configured to send emergency notifications to landlines that are in the 411 and 911 databases and to mobile devices, when individuals sign up.

"There are members of our community who would be especially vulnerable and might not receive emergency notifications because of cell-phone only use, lack of computer access, or language barriers," said Dave Cortese, President, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. "The County wants to ensure messages about what to do and where to go to be safe reach everyone."

"The new 32075 text number will make it easy for everyone to sign up using their cell phones," said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Chair of the County's Disaster Council. "Even if you have a landline, if you are like me and many others, you probably spend most of your time on your cell phone."

The NHIS revealed that one in seven American homes has a landline but receives all or almost all calls on wireless telephones. Nearly one-third of Hispanic adults and a quarter of African American adults live in households with only wireless telephones.

Residents must text "alertscc" along with their "street name" and "zip code" to 32075 for the sign up to work, e.g. alertscc Hedding St 95110

Typing the word alertscc directs the message to the correct database. Typing the street name and zip code will ensure that residents receive AlertSCC messages affecting their specific geographic area. One should not press the hard return key to create separate lines.

While it will not be possible in all cases to give advance notice of disasters, registrants will be able to receive instructions about where to go and what to do to be safe. Messages will contain information such as where shelters are located in the event of an evacuation, where to get medical assistance and food, and areas to avoid because of street closures and downed bridges.

Two new international partners joining the County, San Josˇ, and other local cities to encourage hard-to-reach populations to sign up for AlertSCC are the Mexican Consulate of Mˇxico in San Josˇ and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco (TECO). Both organizations participated in a ceremonial signing of Memoranda of Understanding with local elected officials.

The Mexican Consulate and TECO will participate in outreach efforts to increase awareness and AlertSCC enrollment among their respective populations. The Mexican Consulate will focus on those of Hispanic origin whose primary language is Spanish. Clients will learn more about AlertSCC at the Consulate, obtain information in Spanish and enroll on-site. Working through its Sunnyvale location, TECO will promote AlertSCC to residents of Taiwanese origin at community events.

Other new partners include the Asian Americans for Community Involvement in partnership with First Thursdays for outreach to the Asian Community, Asian American Center for outreach specifically to the Vietnamese community, 100 Black Men of Silicon Valley in partnership with the National Forum of Black Public Administrators for outreach to African Americans - especially cell-phone-only users, and the San Jose Sharks. The San Jose Sharks will air a contest during intermissions at the remaining Sharks home games encouraging fans to text alertscc, their street name and zip code to 32075. Those that sign up will be entered into a drawing to win Sharks jerseys.

"The Consul General of Mˇxico, Director General of Taiwan, and our community partners are expanding our capacity to get this message to key members of the community," said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith. "During these difficult economic times, collaborative efforts such as these will help us be successful."

With the addition of the SMS feature, people now have two ways to sign up, by texting to 32075 or at www.AlertSCC.com. At the web site they have the option of entering multiple numbers and their e-mail addresses to receive e-mail alerts. Signing up multiple numbers is a convenience that makes it possible to be alerted when disaster strikes in areas where an aging parent or young adult children live.

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