Citizens who live or work in Johnson County will get the benefit of a new countywide Mass Notification System that’s designed to communicate emergency and non-emergency information through phone, text, and email messages.
During a Sept. 27 meeting, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners approved a $179,495 three-year contract with Everbridge to implement the mass notification system.
The project, ALERT-JOHNSON COUNTY, is being spearheaded by the Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications Department in partnership with the cities of Overland Park, Olathe, and Lenexa, and Water District No. 1 of Johnson County. The participating jurisdictions will share in providing approximately $99,000 annually in the operational costs of the system.
The contract also provides provisions for additional cities within the county to become participants in 2013 and share in the funding if they chose to participate. Other public safety agencies, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and local police, fire departments, and emergency medical responders, will be involved in the alert/information process.
“With  ALERT-JOHNSON COUNTY, both city/county and utility officials  can notify citizens in specific areas instantly, using computer alerts, texting, or mass phone call messaging,” Walt Way, director of the Emergency Management and Communications Department, said. “It’s another useful tool to enhance the public safety of Johnson County citizens, neighborhoods, businesses, and communities along with providing other important notifications.”
Way says public mass notification systems have become a critical component of emergency preparation and response in other parts of the nation. The system has two main elements:
* Residents prepareto be notified of emergencies or receive non-emergency information by voluntarily providing their landline phones, cell phones, and e-mail addresses to a confidential database.
* Public safety officialsrespondby using the system to rapidly send out messages when there is a perceived, upcoming, or imminent situation that may require community or individual action.
Implementation of the system will involve voluntary participation from Johnson County citizens and businesses wanting to sign up to receive timely alerts, information, and other notifications. To participate, they will need to register their personal contact preferences.
Based on the nature or severity of the event, the system may be used to contact residents by one or all of the following methods: home phone, work phone, cell phone, e-mail, or text message.
ALERT-JOHNSON COUNTY, which will be web-based, can provide information from a database to home or business phones with a voice message, as well as to mobile devices capable of receiving texts and emails. It can also be expanded to include social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Users can opt in on different levels of receiving alerts and information in whatever means they prefer – landline or cell phone, computer, or other personal electronic devices.
The Everbridge provided system will be capable of sending large volumes of messages – a minimum of 100,000 notifications per hour – through phone, e-mail, and text communication channels. It is designed to provide essential, timely information that may include the following topics:
* Emergency Alerts:   Tornado warnings and  flood warnings, evacuation notices, hazardous materials incidents, Amber Alerts and notifications for endangered missing adults or lost children; public health alerts, such as water boil order  alerts, dangerous animal  alerts, infectious disease outbreak, extreme heat and cold advisories to vulnerable populations, and  other imminent threats to the health or safety of residents.
* Community Alerts: Non-emergency police and fire information; community event information; utility notifications, such as water restrictions and power outages; public meetings; and public works projects/road closures.
So how does the system work?
When there is an emergency event requiring community/individual action, authorized officials record a voice message, e-mail, or text message that is quickly transmitted to individuals/businesses/homes affected by the event. Text messages may also be sent to hearing impaired receiving devices.
According to Way, a multijurisdictional approach to the Mass Notification System offers several benefits, including cost-sharing with other governmental entities, collaboration in collection and sharing citizen contact information; and elimination of local costs for computer equipment and services, telephone trunks, and other equipment to provide the service.
Everbridge currently serves over 1,000 organizations in 106 countries. Clients include the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security; states of Connecticut and Arkansas; counties of Boulder (Colorado), Ventura (California), and Walla Walla and Pierce (both in Washington); cities of Beverly Hills, Boston, Galveston, and Tempe; American Red Cross; AT&T; Fidelity Investments; and ING Bank.
So, what’s next?
With the county authorization of the contract with Everbridge, the participating jurisdictions – Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa, and Water District No. 1 – must also approve a Memorandum of Understanding with the county which sets out policies for use of the system and the annual cost to each jurisdiction for using the Mass Notification System. That process is expected to be completed in November.
Registration of Johnson County residents wanting to connect to ALERT-JOHNSON COUNTY at no charge will then follow. The process, which involves providing contact information, such as landline/cell phone numbers, email addresses, and text numbers, is expected to begin by mid-November at a website that will be jointly sponsored by the participating jurisdictions.  The address of that website will be announced at that time.
Participants can select their categories of interest and prioritize their preferred method of contact. Again, the information is kept confidential; it’s free; and participation is voluntary.
“Our plan is to have ALERT-JOHNSON COUNTY up and running by the end of the year,” Way said.