Next generation of emergency notification coming soon

Residents who live in or near Alberta’s Industrial Heartland will soon be able to access the “next generation of emergency notification” says the executive director of North East Community Awareness Emergency Response (NRCAER).

According to Brenda Gheran, an innovative new notification system is currently being rolled out in Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan and will soon be available in Bruderheim and Lamont County. The new system is called Everbridge Mass Notification and it offers residents 28 different ways to be notified of an event or incident.

“It’s very exciting that we are launching Everbridge. It has been very successful all over North America and was the same system that was used when the Boston Marathon bombings happened,” said Gheran. “The way people have been accessing information has changed so dramatically since we launched the UpdateLine that we needed to make a change.”

Before Everbridge, NRCAER’s main notification tool was the UpdateLine, which is a toll free number that residents can call to get information if events or incidents were happening.

With Everbridge, residents won’t need to call in. Instead, they will be notified by the communication methods of their choice when an emergency is happening. Residents can choose from 28 different communication methods including phone call, text message or notifications on Facebook or Twitter.

Residents are required to subscribe to the system and choose their notification options. According to Gheran, they will also have the option to receive information about non-emergency situations such as community events or other programs. However, when residents register, receiving emergency notifications is mandatory.

As of early June, nearly 3,100 residents in Strathcona County had already registered in the program.

“Thousands of residents have already signed up for the Strathcona County Alert system, and we are actively encouraging all residents to sign up,” said Mark Eckley, Assistant Chief of Strathcona County Emergency Services. “In the event of a large scale emergency, Strathcona County will use this system first to notify residents of an emerging situation. We want all residents to be in the know, so it is important for all family members to sign up for the alerts so everyone gets the message as fast as possible.”

Update Line is still an important piece and will continue to operate as it has for the past 11 years, according to Gheran. The phone number is 1-866-653-9459.

Notifying the community of emergency situations is just one of the roles that NRCAER plays in the Heartland. They also co-ordinate mutual aid and emergency response with the industrial and municipal partners in the region.

Earlier in June, they hosted an emergency response tabletop exercise with industry and municipal emergency crews. The emergency workers went into scenarios and simulations and reinforced plans on how those incidents would be handled. The organization also holds field simulations on a three-year schedule, in which emergency crews and equipment are used in a full-scale simulation. One will be held in September.

NRCAER also is responsible for educating the public on how to prepare for an emergency and what to do if one occurs.

“We can’t tell residents enough to prepare for shelter in place and being self sustaining for 72 hours,” said Gheran.

She said 72 hours is the length of time residents are asked to prepare for because that is usually how long it will take for emergency crews to help the people in the most critical need.

“If you are prepared with food and water for 72 hours, emergency responders can help those people who need more critical care first,” she said, noting the it is important not only to have a supply kit, but also a plan.

“If there is a wildfire, what do you do to prepare? If there is severe weather, how are you going to communicate with your family? Do you have the water, food and warm clothing you might need? Do you know what to do without power?” she said.

For anyone wanting more information on planning for emergencies, Gheran recommended visiting the NRCAER website at www.nrcaer.com. Residents can also visit www.getprepared.gc.ca.