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Mass alert system sought to aid county in emergencies

Right now if a crisis like the one that hit the Charleston, W.Va., water supply in January happened in Lawrence County, getting the word out would be hit and miss.

But the county’s Emergency Management Agency wants to change that reality and the Lawrence County Commissioners have signed on.

“We haven’t had the capability to be able to provide a mass notification,” Mike Boster, director of the EMA, told the commissioners at their Tuesday work session.

“We have a big gap where we failed to develop a system to warn people.

Our capability needs to be improved.”

Boster’s solution is Everbridge, a California-based interventional communication alert company.

“It uses every mode,” he said. “There is a challenge to reach people not using a landline.”

Those who agree to sign up with Everbridge will be notified not only via landline, but cell phone, pager and social media.

“Everbridge meets our needs in a real significant way,” Boster said.

That’s why Boster applied and received a grant to cover 50 percent of the startup cost of $17,340. Already the Lawrence Emergency Planning Committee has committed $1,000. There will be a recurring annual fee of $16,240, of which 50 percent will be covered by an existing operating grant in the EMA budget.

Right now the commission has tentatively agreed to commit money from the half-percent sales tax fund that currently has $15,253 left unappropriated out of the $2,641,459 originally certified. However, if other partners can be found, such as the City of Ironton, schools or utilities, that commitment of $7,500 would be reduced.

“We are discussing with other agencies to see how many partners we could get to come along,” Commission President Les Boggs said. “This is something we need to do.”

The system could be used not only for the EMA, but also the sheriff’s office, the county EMS and the county engineer.

This summer the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet asked the county engineer’s office to notify Lawrence County residents about the closure of the Ben Williamson Bridge. Using a private company that could only reach registered voters via a robocall cost the county $1,400.

“This is very important in light of what happened over in West Virginia,” Commissioner Freddie Hayes said. “It is important for the safety for Lawrence County and I am 100 percent behind that.”