Automated calls for public safety threats can take hours to deliver
FARGO--CodeRED emergency alerts are meant to give immediate notice of public safety threats, but if the entire metro area faces such a threat, it could be hours before some receive their calls. In September 2013, a test call to 100,000 phone numb...
FARGO--CodeRED emergency alerts are meant to give immediate notice of public safety threats, but if the entire metro area faces such a threat, it could be hours before some receive their calls.
In September 2013, a test call to 100,000 phone numbers in Cass and Clay counties took one hour, according to Stephanie Meyers, a spokeswoman for the company that sells CodeRED.
But Clay County Emergency Manager Lt. Bryan Green said that test took three hours, including the time spent calling back numbers that did not pick up. The system will call up to three times.
Delays are inevitable with any phone-based system, experts say, but the delays also beg the question of whether CodeRED is worth $60,000 a year in the Red River Regional Dispatch budget.
Early Monday morning, a CodeRED alert went out almost three hours after a child went missing , and the system took 20 minutes to call about 70,000 phone numbers in Fargo , part of Moorhead and part of West Fargo, according to company records.
"You might imagine that no matter how much equipment you had and had invested in, that many notices does take time," said Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness.
Rogness said a call to that large of an area was an "unusual circumstance."
"Generally speaking, when local officials outline an area to make those notices, they're smaller geographic areas and those phone calls do come out very quickly," he said.
For the large area included in Monday morning's calls, Meyers said, "20 minutes is pretty good."
But by the time the calls ended at 12:38 a.m., 3-year-old Skyler Ley Kha was likely already found. Fargo police responded to an 11:35 p.m. Sunday call of an intoxicated male, and he led them to the stolen van with the child.
Fargo Lt. Ross Renner said police were still investigating the missing child at 12:18 a.m. when he launched the CodeRED alert, which he said is a multistep process.
"We don't just walk in and notify the whole city of things like this," he said. "There are many things that have to be done prior," such as verification of the vehicle description.
In the 10-plus years the metro has had CodeRED, the system has been touted as especially useful in floods, and has been used to call sandbagging volunteers to specific neighborhoods.
CodeRED advertises itself as the fastest notification system on the market, but even the fastest system isn't instant, Meyers said.
"We'll dial as fast as we can, but there are limitations as to what the local telephone infrastructure can handle," she said. "No company anywhere in the universe, unless they're a magician, would be able to contact everybody instantaneously."
Emergency planners say they consider CodeRED to be one of the better options, plus it's not their sole method of alerting residents.
Rogness noted there are also sirens, local media and "if it comes down to failures of all of those systems, we go down to just basics, sending out police and fire and having them use the PA systems on their vehicles to notify communities," he said. "We've got a pretty robust system."