By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
Emergency notification technology has radically changed since the use of air raid sirens to warn Americans of imminent disasters during the Cold War.
The dilapidated sirens such as those found on South West and North Westfield streets in Feeding Hills had been rendered obsolete long before the town of Agawam's acquisition of the emergency notification system Connect-CTY in 2007.
In the absence of adequate emergency notification technology, city officials in Agawam, West Springfield, Westfield and Southwick have each obtained a state-of-the-art emergency notification systems as recently as last week. These systems allow residents and businesses to be notified via landline, cellular phone, e-mail or fax within minutes.
"One of my frustrations [as Emergency Management Director for the town of Agawam] was that there was no way of notifying people of impending disaster," Chet Nicora said.
He explained that after recording an emergency message via telephone or computer, Nicora can then target the notification to be sent to the entire town, specific streets, neighborhoods or town officials through a telephone call. Public telephone numbers were entered into the town's Connect-CTY database and residents and businesses have entered additional contact information through the town's Web site.
Nicora noted the weak link in emergency notification systems is that some residents are unlisted in the public telephone directory, making their notification impossible via Connect-CTY. He encouraged residents to register their contact information it is never distributed publicly or to third party carriers. The information is used for Connect-CTY only.
Nicora explained that since acquiring Connect-CTY at a cost of $3 per household or business town officials have been able to warn residents and businesses of severe weather, road closures, missing persons, flooding, water main breaks and multiple other emergency situations.
Westfield's Mayor Michael Boulanger, also the city's former Emergency Management Director, said he has worked for several years to acquire an emergency notification system for city residents and businesses. He added that earlier this month the city settled a contract with 3n Mass Notification System at a cost of $41,000 for the first year and $31,000 for each subsequent year.
"Westfield is precariously situated at the crossroads of major highways, a railroad, an airport and a major river . this whole system can be utilized for many different things and will be a great asset for the city and bring it into the 21st century," Boulanger said.
He added that the system would have been helpful last spring when flood evacuees had to be notified by city personnel going door-to-door. Boulanger explained that the city's inability to notify residents expediently is what bore the idea for an instantaneous emergency notification system.
Karl Stinehart, chief administrative officer for the town of Southwick, also member of the town's Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), explained that the committee had been considering several emergency notification systems for over one year before sending a positive recommendation for Connect-CTY to the Board of Selectmen (BOS).
On April 7, the BOS announced that they had approved the system at a cost of $11,700 for the first 15 months and $9,250 for each subsequent year, according to Stinehart. He added that the system will allow himself, the Police or Fire chiefs to notify approximately 3,700 residents and businesses in the event of an imminent disaster.
Stinehart noted that the system will also be used for meeting notices and reminders such as the tax deadline. He explained that the town's need for such a system was not because of any particular event but as a "proactive" measure.
West Springfield Mayor Edward Gibson, explained that city officials have sent out emergency notifications approximately 30 times in the past two years via Connect-CTY. He added that the town had no mass emergency notification system prior to Connect-CTY. Gibson said the system costs the city $15,000 annually.
Residents or businesses that have not registered their information with Connect-CTY in Agawam visit the town Web site at www.agawam.ma.us and click on the Connect-CTY icon on the left side of the page.
For residents and businesses in Westfield, Boulanger said notification on how to register additional information into their emergency notification database will be released shortly.
Residents and businesses in Southwick can provide additional information three telephone numbers and town e-mail addresses, as well as note if they have receiving devices for the hearing impaired by visiting the town's Web site at www.southwick.ma.org. Click on the Connect-CTY link on the left side of the page. Those without access to the Internet can call 569-5995 to have their information entered into the database.
For more information about Connect-CTY in West Springfield, contact the town's Emergency Management Director Gerard Connor Jr. at 263-3345.