COWnty Alert

November 5, 2008

We recently learned of a wonderful service San Mateo County provides free of charge to residents. SMC Alert is a text messaging system that will text your phone in the event of an emergency. It will communicate with cell phones, pagers, and PDA’s including Blackberries. Quoting from the guide to the service, it is “a digital communication system used by governments, emergency management agencies and first responders to send emergency alerts, notifications and updates to civilian’s e-mail or portable digital device.” The system will warn of everything from mountain lion sightings (as mentioned in our recent article on the subject here) to tsunamis.

The service is free for anyone who lives or works in San Mateo County, although you may have to pay for any text you receive if your cell phone plan charges for incoming texts. You can sign up for an account with the service, and add multiple devices or e-mail accounts to the SMC Alert account. in the event of an emergency, you will get a message on any device linked to the service.

In an emergency situation, authorities can use the system to pass instructions and information even when other modes of communication are down. Even in situations where voice calls have been disabled by heavy volume (as is common in major emergencies) experience has shown that text messages generally still go through. In a major emergency, if you are currently safe, you are advised not call 9-1-1 or other emergency numbers to report the event, since undoubtedly they will already be aware of it and you may just further tie up phone lines. The alert system is updated in real time (as much as is possible, in an emergency).

You can choose which sorts of alerts you wish to receive, based on your concerns and location. Here in Woodside, you might wished to be alerted to a mountain lion sighting, but someone in Millbrae probably wouldn’t care.

Some examples of alerts:

• Severe weather
• Evacuation routes
• Emergency shelter locations
• Road accidents
• Fire
• Flash Flood
• Amber Alerts

You can sign up for the service (or learn more about it) here. Check it out and stay safe!

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