Provided through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, a FEMA-approved initiative, the grant is split between federal, state and local shares at a rate of 75 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The total grant cost is $29,683, with $22,262 coming from federal funds, $2,968 from state coffers and with the county providing $4,453.
The reverse-911 system acts similarly to the hazard alert system utilized by the Walker County school system, which sends phone call or text-message warnings to parents in cases of emergencies or inclement weather.
“The school system, if they want to put out an alert or whatever, they've got a system,” said Walker County coordinator David Ashburn. “That's what this is, and it's tied to telephones, cell phones, whatever you want it to be. Now automatically, we will put in all of the land lines, because we have that at the 911 center.”
All Walker County residents with a land line will be added to the system, which could be potentially life-saving in case of bad weather, given that the warning sirens in the county are few and far between, and cannot be heard in all residential corners. Residents who primarily use a cell phone will have the option to add their mobile number to the list as well.
“Part of this grant is to pay to advertise,” said Ashburn. “We'll do a mailer to everybody that says basically 'Look, we're putting this in. If you don't have a land line or if you want it to call your cell phone, then you can call this number and give us this information or go online and put it in yourself.' It similar to what they do at the school system, starting the year out and sending that home to parents so they can fill that out and then it can be in the system.”
Ashburn hopes the system can be added onto in the future as new technology and programs become available.
“Now the other part that we're looking at is there are some systems now that have the ability to put data in. So let's say that you're a diabetic, or you have epileptic seizures, or whatever, and you're living at home with your parents and your mother has had two heart attacks and is taking all these medications. You can physically go in online and fill out that information.”
With future possible add-ons, critical medical information could be accessed directly by the 911 center when a call is placed from the participating number, thereby alerting EMTs in advance of any issues of which they should be aware.
Ashburn adds that, should that feature be included in the future, residents' personal medical information will be stored safely, and only visible when absolutely necessary.
“The way some of them are working is they stay out here in a never-never land, so our dispatchers can sit there and look at it...basically it comes through and can be tapped into when somebody calls 911 tied to that number.”
The data system would be an additional cost to the county, and it plans to take bids to evaluate the total price in the near future.
“That's what we're trying to fine-tune right now, because we started this as part of the mitigation money from the April 2011 tornado,” said Ashburn. “When the federal government has a declared federal disaster, then they take a percent of that total amount...and set aside a percentage of that so that you can apply for grants. And so that's what we did.
“We applied for two things,” said Ashburn. “This, and the siren alert system. And that was going to be about one and a half million dollars, because of our topography. They didn't approve that one but they approved this one.
“This is something I look for us to work towards, to see if we could work it out for the first of December,” he said.