Blanket emergency-siren system online for Fla. EMS
By Christopher Sherman
Copyright 2007 Sentinel Communications Co.
WINTER PARK, Fla. — When there's a tornado headed for the city, officials will soon be able to warn residents and Rollins College students through sirens, land lines, cell phones, pagers and e-mail.
The deadly tornadoes that ripped through Central Florida on Feb. 2 sent many communities looking for ways to warn residents of danger. The Virginia Tech shooting in April jolted universities.
A report released Thursday by a panel studying that campus massacre found, in part, that if a warning had been given sooner to Virginia Tech students after the gunman killed his first two victims, lives might have been saved.
By the end of the year, Winter Park residents and Rollins College students, faculty and staff will be blanketed in an emergency system combining sirens, databases and call centers.
The "Outreach" program combines six 50-foot siren towers — a seventh will be on Rollins' campus — with high-speed communications networks.
The city's reverse-911 call to residents can take 30 to 40 minutes to reach home phones. The new system developed by Melbourne-based Emergency Telecommunications Inc., or EMTEL, will be able to blast the city's 25,000 land lines in five minutes.
"If we can't alert people quickly, we're wasting our time," Winter Park fire Chief Jim White said.
The towers, except for the one at Rollins, all will be on city property, including three at fire stations.
City commissioners agreed to pay $104,000 for the siren system from Federal Signal Corp. and $28,000 to EMTEL for the calling system. Rollins College is fronting the money for the city's system and paying for the work on its campus.
The college was already talking to the city about a system after the tornadoes, said Brad McKown, Rollins' director of environmental health and safety.
"The Virginia Tech incident really put an exclamation point on it," McKown said.
The college's siren tower, as well as those targeting Central Park and Lake Island Park, will include speakers that can broadcast a voice message, such as instructions to take shelter.
A city Web site will allow residents to join the system by providing their e-mail addresses and cell-phone numbers. The city already has land-line phone numbers. Rollins students and parents will be able to sign up for the system through the college, McKown said.
Within a few months, the city also hopes to have the ability to send a taped message directly to cell towers in the city that will then broadcast it to all cell phones within range. The siren system could be automatically triggered by a tornado warning, but for now, the city will keep manual control to avoid sending unnecessary alarms for storms that may be far from Winter Park.
"You can't cry wolf," White said.
Oviedo expects to have a siren system installed within four weeks. Seminole County's system will allow it to send emergency text messages to cell phones and e-mail accounts.
Winter Park also hopes to use the network system for non-emergencies.
For example, after a hurricane, residents who answer a call could respond to telephone prompts that might ask whether their power is out or street is blocked. Their answers would be immediately plotted on a digital map, allowing the city to focus its response.
Or the city could notify a particular street or block about a street closure or a boil-water alert.