Mecklenburg E911 Center launches new emergency updates system

Ben Duncan, director of the Mecklenburg County E911 Communications Center, appeared before the county board of supervisors on Monday to update the group on the E911 system and to tell the members about the new Alert Mecklenburg notification system.
For several years, Mecklenburg has offered citizens weather alerts through the “Code Red” system. The Code Red warnings were provided free to citizens but were limited to providing only warnings of severe weather situations and only delivered voice messages to landline or cell phones.
Speaking on Monday night, Duncan told the supervisors that he and his staff had been looking at other options.
“Our team came together in September and started looking at other platforms, and we went with Everbridge Emergency Mass Notification System,” Duncan said.
According to Duncan, the new system will notify citizens of potential weather hazards as well as public alerts, “amber” or “silver” alerts, areas officials want citizens to avoid and, in the event of national emergency, FEMA or presidential messages.
While the system can use the same sort of voice messaging to phones that the Code Red system used, the new Alert Mecklenburg system can also send email, text or SMS messages to computers, smart phones and other devices. The system is also compatible with devices for the hearing impaired.
“We can,” said Duncan, “push messages to every mobile device in the county.”
Unlike the Code Red system, the Alert Mecklenburg system allows citizens to select “quiet hours” where notifications will not be sent. One of the chief complaints seen with the Code Red system was warning calls being received in the middle of the night.
Duncan urged citizens to take advantage of the free service by registering with the notification system. Citizens can sign up at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office or any police station or by visiting the county website at mecklenburgva.com and following the “Alert Mecklenburg” link.
Registration is quick and easy, allowing citizens to set up various locations to monitor, what type(s) of devices on which they wish to receive notifications and “quiet hours.”
For more information call (434) 738-6191 extension 4367.
Duncan also reported that communications officers have in the past been required to have one week of professional training and another two days of training for medical and legal issues. That, he felt, was not enough.
“I think education is very important,” Duncan said, adding that he has created a training coordinator position who, effective Jan. 1, will be working with the staff.
Duncan also told the supervisors that the E911 system has answered nearly 60,000 calls this year. Some 98.6 percent of the calls, he said, were answered in 10 seconds or less.
Duncan also offered several tips for citizens who find themselves in a position of needing to call 911.
“When you call, we realize that you’re at maybe the worst point of life,” said Duncan. “It has to be something really bad for you to call 911, and we understand that.”
Duncan said that although he realizes the various questions the communication officers ask can fluster some callers, he reminded the public that the answers given are relayed to emergency responders so they have a better idea of what type of situation they’re walking into. That, he said, allows them to be prepared to better provide assistance.
The recently implemented practice of having communication officers trained in first aid and providing instructions for callers, said Duncan, has paid off with two lives confirmed as saved when dispatchers provided instruction in CPR to callers. There were, he said, at least three other instances where the first aid instructions provided by dispatchers “had a vital role in the outcome.”
“It’s a great program,” said Duncan, “and one that’s only going to get better.”