CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

October 20, 2013

County officials exploring new emergency notification software

By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Cullman County officials are exploring the possibility of purchasing a new online notification system that would alert residents to severe weather or crisis situations by text, email and voice mail.

Emergency Management Agency Director Phyllis Little organized a demonstration of the software from the Palo Alto, Calif. company Regroup to county commissioners and other county officials last month. Besides severe weather alerts, Regroup could be used to send residents reminders about county services like tag renewals and other business.

Regroup began in 2006 at Stanford University as a way to enable the school to support and manage communications of its constituents. Since then, the company has spread throughout the country. Within its first year, it supported more than 50,000 users, from non-profit organizations to companies to schools.

Regroup offers group messaging service that can go out via email, text, voicemail, website, pagers and mobile devices, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A service contract would cost $14,999 annually, just under the state’s bid law requirement, Little said.

At the demonstration at the EMA office, county officials were interested in the program’s potential, but they also had concerns about the security of the information they sent out and how to make sure messages would reach all Cullman County residents. County Attorney Heath Meherg questioned how Regroup’s messages would get out to residents during a catastrophic event that took out cell phone and other telecommunication services.

“One of our main problems was that no one’s cell phone worked after the tornado,” Meherg said, referring to the devastating April 27, 2011, tornadoes that leveled portions of downtown Cullman and parts of Hanceville.  

Little said she hoped to get answers to officials’ questions about the program before a decision is made whether to purchase a subscription.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.