Hamburg town officials were planning to roll out their new emergency notification system with a media blitz Tuesday.
But then a man went missing last week, and there was concern that he could have a weapon and might harm himself.
So Hamburg police put Code Red into play a little early, and the system called about 22,000 households in the village and town last Wednesday evening, asking them to be on the lookout for the man.
He was found, unharmed, in about six hours.
“For years, our approach in emergency services has been reactive, and time and time again, we’ve learned that that is not always the most effective way,” Sean P. Crotty, deputy emergency management director for the town, said at a news conference Tuesday. “Being proactive in communication is hugely important in getting the word out to what the residents can expect, should do, and what they can expect us to be doing.”
Hamburg this month became the sixth community in Erie County to contract with Emergency Communications Network for the Code Red notification system, which allows agencies to quickly send out telephone calls, text messages, emails or other digital alerts to a targeted area.
Lancaster, which has had the system about seven years, used it during the October Surprise snowstorm and when a tractor-trailer veered off the Thruway in Bowmansville and sheared off a high-pressure natural gas line two years ago. First responders evacuated the homes closest to the accident, then experts used a computer program to plot where a plume of gas would fan out, based on the gas and weather conditions, said the disaster coordinator, Police Lt. Ronald J. Rozler.
“They set up the same area on the Code Red system,” Rozler said, and the homes that could have been affected received telephone calls to evacuate.
Elma, Marilla, Depew and Buffalo already also have the system, although Buffalo’s program has not yet gone through test calls, according to the company.
Hamburg has put listed numbers for land lines in its system, but those who want to be contacted via cellphone or digitally must register the number with the town.
There also is a digital application that smartphone users can download for free through Google Play or iTunes that allows the person to receive messages throughout the country. If someone in Hamburg had the app and was traveling in another state that put out an emergency message based on the location of cell towers, the Hamburg phone would get the message.
Suffolk County is another customer and used the system during Superstorm Sandy, according to the Emergency Communications Network, and Newtown, Conn., used it in the aftermath of the mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We need a way to notify the public of times that are dangerous, of incidents that affect the public safety, and this is our opportunity to do that,” Hamburg Supervisor Steven J. Walters said.
The town signed a five-year agreement for the system, at a cost of $168,750, or $33,750 a year. The Village of Hamburg also has signed on to use the system for about $5,500 a year. Blasdell will be covered for emergency messages but not the community notifications.
Hamburg police are looking forward to using the system at the Erie County Fair in August. The idea is to get all the vendors’ cellphones in the system, as well those of fairgoers.
There will be information at the gates on how to register phones. In the event of an emergency, such as a missing child or high winds and storms that have shut down rides in the past, messages can be put out quickly to vendors and fairgoers who have registered.
The system also can be used to notify residents of situations that are not emergencies, such as road closures due to paving or a recreation program cancellation due to weather problems, Walters said.
But to do that, Hamburg residents need to go to the town website, www.townofhamburgny.com, and click on the Code Red Enroll Now icon, or call the Emergency Services Office at 648-5111, Ext. 2500 or 2811.
A test phone call will be made Monday to everyone in the town’s database. Those who do not get a phone call Monday are asked to notify the town on the town website or to call the Emergency Services Office.
Because it is so easy to make a phone call, residents also will be called when the emergency is over, or the missing person is found, Crotty said.
The town did get some phone calls last week by residents who were confused by the message, or who thought it was a hoax. Crotty said an emergency message from the town will show up on a caller ID system as “Emergency Communication Network,” and a noncritical message will be from “Community Notification.”