Code Red would provide Island-wide emergency notification


Oak Bluffs emergency management director Peter Martell remembered recently that his town found itself in an embarrassing situation last fall. At 5 pm on Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, the town issued a boil water order due to possible contamination in the water supply, but had no effective means to notify residents of the order.

That was the impetus for the installation of Code Red, an Islandwide telephone/email emergency notification system expected to go into operation in mid-July. Public safety officials hope that year-round and seasonal residents will go online to ensure that they are in the Code Red program database.

Mr. Martell, co-director of the Code Red project, with Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack, told The Times that loading of data into the Code Red database for the Island is ongoing and an enormous task, because it involves six towns and county information. In the coming weeks arrangements will be completed to provide those without home computer access to the Code Red program with access through places such as senior centers and libraries on the Island.

Currently the database includes approximately 60 percent of year-round residents using the white pages and the 911 information that provides addresses with longitude and latitude information. Mr. Martell said, “the goal is to get as close to 100 percent of the year-rounders into the system as is possible.”

Currently Island residents who go to either the Chilmark or West Tisbury town websites will find an icon for Code Red which will lead them to the process of adding landline or cell phone numbers as well as email and text message addresses to the database. The system requires the use of an Island address regardless of the telephone numbers entered and will eliminate duplications and can also be programmed for a three- or six-month stay on the Island.

The other four Island towns are still doing data entry to the Code Red system through their websites. Although the sheriff’s department exists within the county structure, there is no information currently posted on the county website about Code Red.

Dukes County manager Russell Smith told The Times, “I am ready as soon as I get the instructions from the emergency management guys.”

In the case of an Islandwide emergency or a notification need, public safety officials in a particular town or with Islandwide authority would be able to launch the system by logging into the program, entering a password, providing a pin number ,and then a launch code in order to trigger the system. The warning system may be used in one town, a broader geography, or the entire Island if needed.

As early as 2008, even before the Oak Bluff’s boil-water incident, the Island’s Emergency Management Association EMA), comprising each town’s appointed emergency management director, had been working on bringing this technology to the Island, according to West Tisbury emergency management director John Christensen.

The EMA recommended the Island select the Code Red technology because “it has the most bells and whistles for the best price,” Mr. Christensen said. The Island price is $12,500 a year to access the Code Red website, with each town paying 81 cents per year-round resident. The Island towns did not have to invest in any hardware or software. Instead Code Red, a Florida-based company, operates the system and updates the technology as needed.

The types of emergencies that could activate the Code Red system include natural disasters, search and rescue needs, schools-based threats, man-made, criminal, or public works dangers. There is no limit to the number of times a year the Code Red system could be accessed to deal with one of these types of emergencies.

If the Code Red system is activated in one town the local authorities would launch the system. If the emergency crosses or includes more than one jurisdiction, personnel at the Island Communications Center operated by the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department would launch the program.

Whenever the system is activated by any authority, a new message with incident-specific information and instructions is recorded and used by the computer to leave messages on the phone lines in the database.

According to the Code Red contract, the Island also has 20,000 minutes it could use annually to deal with a situation that does not rise to the emergency level but for which the Code Red technology would be a useful tool. For example, six residents on a street could be notified that their street was being closed for a pipe repair. The minutes used are computed using approximately 30 seconds per call; thousands of calls can be made by the computer-driven program in an hour, Mr. Christensen said.