Hurricane season is coming, and the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency wants all residents to be ready with Alert Liberty.
Alert Liberty is a notification system for which users register to receive
weather, critical and non-emergency alerts.
Users may designate which alerts to receive, how they want to be notified — text message, email or phone call — and what time to not receive certain alerts. Hurricane, tsunami and tornado alerts cannot be opted out or turned off during quiet hours.
LCEMA Director Mike Hodges said the system can make as many as 10,000 calls a minute.
"My phone rings, I answer it and it’s Alert Liberty, saying I have an important message and I have to hit ‘1’ to hear it," he said. "You hit it, then it gives you that information. Then it asks you to acknowledge that you got it. When you acknowledge it, then it stops calling you."
Alert Liberty will continue to contact an individual on the devices registered to the system until there is confirmation that the alert was received.
Some people have compared the alerts via phone to robocalls, Hodges said, but he calls it one of the best alert systems currently in use and that, "A little aggravation to hit a button is all it costs you."
Hodges talked about an incident involving a child who went missing around 1:30 a.m. Four thousand people were alerted, and in less than five minutes people were calling with information, he said.
The Hinesville Fire Department uses the alert system to contact firefighters for large fires, and Liberty Regional Medical Center is also looking into using the system, Hodges said.
LCEMA administrative assistant Sheri Reddicks said about 10,000 people are registered to Alert Liberty — a combination of contacts imported from the white pages and people who have actually signed up. The white pages are only used for severe weather and other dangerous situations.
Hodges said the alert system gathers information in two ways. The first is that Hodges and his staff input information for an alert, and the second is from the National Weather Service. When the Feb. 3 tornado touched down on Fort Stewart — causing a power outage and damage to several buildings — the Weather Service issued alerts to people directly in the path of the tornado. The alert system receives the information from the Weather Service in polygons. Polygons are shown as shapes on a map over an area intended to warn only the locations and people inside that area of impending severe weather, according to the Southern Region National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.
"The polygons followed it (the tornado path) all the way, and it (Alert Liberty) called the people in those polygons and no one outside of the polygon got anything," Hodges said. "People said, ‘There was a tornado right there and it didn’t even call me.’ It’s not a news service. It’s purely for alerting you to danger. It’s not going to call anyone out of the polygon area and say, ‘We just had a tornado over here.’"
The Weather Service controls the polygon information, and LCEMA cannot make changes to the system, such as enlarging the polygons to alert more people.
Hodges worries that people do not believe that a major disaster, such as a hurricane or tsunami, can happen in Liberty County.
"People believe that since the U.S. sits like this (demonstrating the position) and Georgia is on an inlet that we’re protected. Nothing can be further from the truth. One day, it’s going to happen. We’re going to have our turn," he said. "And this is our way of letting the public know that there are things you need to do."
The National Weather Service and NOAA use an integrated public alert and warning system. The system notifies every cellphone through GPS. It is not the same as Alert Liberty, Hodges said, but the two are linked together. For example, the NOAA system will alert someone driving on Interstate 95 about a tornado warning in Liberty County.
Users can change what and how alerts are received from Alert Liberty at any time.
To sign up for emergency alerts, go to www.liber tycountyga.com, and under Quick Links, click on "Alert Liberty." Any questions or concerns related to Alert Liberty should be directed to the LCEMA at 912-368-2201.
Alert Liberty is produced by Everbridge, a communication and mass notification company.