Sulphur Springs Police Depatment Communications Supervisor Nancy Stillwagoner points to MyStateUSA National Portal's Alert Sense website, a free weather and emergency alert service Assistant Police Chief Robert Stidham and Lt. Rex Morgan are letting the public know about. For more information, go online to mystateusa.com.
Staff Photo By Faith Huffman

On Full Alert

Local officials tout free service that delivers emergency alerts to mobile devices, computers

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram Staff

July 13, 2008 - Technology puts information at our fingertips at the stroke of a key. Sulphur Springs Police Department hopes others will take advantage of those advancements to have severe weather and other emergency alerts sent directly to them via an Internet service called Alert Sense.

MyStateUsa National Portal can send alerts to cell phones, pagers, Blackberries and computer e-mail accounts.

"We feel like there is a need for this very useful service in our community," said SSPD Assistant Chief Robert Stidham. "If we have to notify the community immediately, this is a quick way to do that, in addition to media sources such as radio, TV and print."

Stidham can testify to the capabilites of Alert Sense firsthand.

"Lt. Jay Sanders, Lt. Rex Morgan and I have this service," he said. "We've had it for a time and find it very reliable. We depend on it as part of our job to keep the city government updated on information."

Lt. Morgan said the service has been available for about a year.

"We use it as an integral part of our emergency management program," said Morgan, Sulphur Springs' emergency management coordinator. "We waited to inform the community about it to make sure they had all the bugs worked out."

While the police department is not directly affiliated with Alert Sense or MyStateUSA , they are able to utilize the service to more quickly disseminate emergency management and homeland security information. For instance, if the city's 911 system went down, the city's emergency managements officials could send out alerts through the service about the difficulty and include alternate telephone numbers to call for assistance. Similarly, emergency management officials could send out messages warning local mystateusa subscribers to avoid certain areas should a hazardous materials situation arise.

"Suppose you're at a baseball game and clouds begin rolling in," Stidham noted. "You might ask yourself if a bad storm is coming in or just a small shower. You're not around your computer, television or radio to quickly check. This way, if there is severe weather which warrants a watch, you'll be alerted instantly [by cell phone]. It's particularly useful in the spring when we generally have that kind of weather."

"We can select people to notify," added Morgan. "They just sign up. It's part of a our emergency management plan. We can type in the information and send it out. That's one great advantage for this system. Cities can send their own messages to a group. It's just like sending e-mail or phone texts to any other group."

Anyone can take advantage of the free service by going online to www.mystateusa.com and following the directions to sign up.

Subscribers are asked to give their name, e-mail address and zip code. They then select the type of weather alerts. Options include air quality/stagnation, avalanche, blizzard, dust storm, fire, flood and flash flood, fog/visibility, frost, high wind, hurricane, severe thunderstorm, tropical storm, tsunami and winter related. Also, subscribers may select from a list of non-weather related alerts such as nuclear and radiological emergency, and child abduction emergency. All subscribers receive tornado watch and warning alerts and local emergency alert messages. The subscribers also selects whether the messages are to be delivered to a cellular or blueberry phone (provider has to be selected) or pager.

However, cell phone users are cautioned to check their phone policy regarding text messages. If the phone owner doesn't have a text message plan included in their policy, the phone company will charge a text message fee. MyStateUSA does not charge a fee to register, Stidham noted.

Cell phone text message and pager alerts will be abbreviated alerts with just the basics. Those denoting e-mail as preference for alerts will be sent more in-depth information about the alert, and those who want to can always log on and check it out online, according to Morgan.

Weather alerts will be sent anytime the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issues a watch or warning for this area. Once the alert has been issued, those wanting continued monitoring reports can tune in to KSST radio, the city's primary weather provider, Morgan said.

And, if the service isn't what was expected or for whatever reason the subscriber decides they no longer want to continue receiving alerts, they can simply call the company or send a text or e-mail to unsubscribe.

As Sulphur Springs Police Department is not affiliated with MyStateUSA, they take no responsibility for the company's actions. Also, should subscribers encounter any problems with the service, they should contact mystateusa.com by e-mail or call the company at 866-287-6079.

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