County spreads word on emergency notification alertsPublished 11:10am Thursday, August 1, 2013
When severe weather hits the area, sirens don’t always reach rural residents. To solve the problem, the county has been perfecting a new way to notify residents about emergencies.
Known as the MIR3 notification system, the alert program is growing in popularity among rural residents.
“This system just provides a lot of flexibility,” said Patrick Waletzko, emergency manager for Otter Tail County. “It can be used for any reason a community has for notification.”
Sirens are an effective way to get people into shelter and tuned in to needed information during a tornado warning, but they are not always meant to be heard inside. With the MIR3 system, registered users receive warnings via text message, phone call, email or fax whenever emergencies hit an area. Emergencies notifications are not limited to weather, but also range from missing children alerts to utility shutoffs.
Towns and other entities that sign up for the MIR3 system control messages manually and registered administrators can send the notifications through access on their computers or smartphones. Administrators are able to pinpoint notifications on a map as well, so only areas that are affected by an event will receive messages.
As technology evolves, so has the system, and the county continues work to improve its effectiveness. The county is also working with registered towns and the other entities to set better standards for when notifications are sent.
“It’s flexibility is a huge draw for cities,” Waletzko said. “It’s not a perfect system but we’re doing the best we can and learning something everyday.”
Around 2,500 residents across the county are registered with the system, and that number continues to grow. Pelican Rapids, Vergas, Ottertail and Henning participate in the system, and others are showing interest. At an informational meeting at the end of June, the cities of Battle Lake and Dent enrolled. The county sheriff’s department, Lake Region Healthcare and Perham Health are also registered to receive alerts.
Registered towns, townships and other entities that sign up for the system pay for its use, but a cost sharing program keeps expenses at a minimum. Residents registered to receive alerts are not charged a fee, however.
Residents who live where enrollment is available can register on their city website. Waletzko said the county has designed the program so it is as customizable as possible to better meet individual needs.
“We like the self-registration process because the resident has the ability to enter their own information and what they want their experience to be,” Waletzko said. “This is another tool, and we want people to have it.”