Portage County – Recently, residents in the Hiram-Garrettsville-Nelson area received an automated phone call from the Portage County Sheriff’s Department. The pre-recorded message alerted residents to be on the lookout for a 12-year-old boy who had been reported missing earlier in the day, and to call the Sheriff’s Department if anyone had information about the child’s whereabouts.
This was an example of Reverse 911, an emergency alert system that has been in place throughout Portage County for nearly two years, according to Sheriff David Doak. This Reverse 911 system is used effectively in thousands of U.S. communities to improve the lines of communication to the general population and targeted groups of citizens. The system provides immediate notification of critical information in times of crisis and emergencies, such as natural disasters, missing children and crime alerts.
The system was launched locally because the 12-year-old runaway was still missing, the sun was going to set soon, it was a cold, wintry day, and the child’s parents were “getting frantic.” Search teams – aided by search dogs – had not yet been successful in locating the boy. It was time to get additional eyes and ears into the search, to increase the boy’s odds of returning home before sundown.
Ultimately, it was a friend of the boy’s who suggested that he might be hiding out at another friend’s home. And there he was, tired, hungry, upset and cold… but otherwise fine. He was safe at home before dark.
Reverse 911 is different from an Amber Alert, which is signaled over radio waves and television news outlets when a juvenile has been abducted. Reverse 911 — provided through the Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Homeland Security — is more flexible. It can be put in place as soon as a report is filed that a child is missing or there is some other emergency at hand.
For instance, The Portage County Sheriff’s Department issued a Reverse 911 in October 2010, when a fugitive from Geauga County, considered to be armed and dangerous, led police on a chase through Portage County, then jumped out of his pickup truck along Pioneer Trail and evaded officers in a wooded area of Hiram Township. Reverse 911 calls were made to warn residents in the area about the fugitive and to request reporting of any sightings to authorities.
“Our policy is ASAP,” Doak says. “Some agencies don’t even allow filing a report until after 24 hours has passed since someone has gone missing or another incident has occurred. But we want people to file a report as soon as possible. Once we get a report in here, we want other agencies and residents in the area to have the information on hand.”
“If my child ran away or came up missing, I’d want police acting on it right away,” Doak says. “We do not wait to put the information in the system. We don’t want kids out there on the county roads.”
Even better, Doak has a few suggestions for parents of potential runaways or for family and friends of anyone who goes missing: Know who their friends are, because people typically run toward someone they are close to.
But when trouble strikes, Reverse 911 is a powerful problem-solving tool. The program spreads emergency messages using a combination of database and Geographic Information System computer mapping technologies. The system is ideal for use in small towns and villages, as well as small to mid-sized municipalities, school campuses, federal agencies and military bases, giving organizations a regionalized approach to shared emergency notification.
The system can quickly target a precise geographic area and saturate it with thousands of calls. Designed for rapid distribution of messages, it creates calling zones which can be based on immediate emergency circumstances or selected in advance based on anticipated scenarios.
In addition to missing person alerts, other uses of the Reverse 911 system include:
Natural Disaster Alerts
Hazardous Material Leaks
Search and Rescue Operations
Wanted Person Alerts
Neighborhood Emergency Incidents
Special Community Notifications
Reverse 911 configures a recorded message and provides residents with critical information or detailed instructions. It also provides first responders with a state-of-the-art public safety communication solution that meets needs in Portage County at any given time.