Heads Up! app readied in area

NEW CUMBERLAND – A new smartphone application that alerts residents about local emergencies is coming to Hancock County.

The “Heads Up!” emergency alert notification application, although still in the planning stages, would allow cities, utilities, first-responders and other entities in the county to communicate with residents immediately about everything from water-boil alerts to street closings to school cancellations.

“It’s timely, it’s immediate,” Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said. “It’s just another way of getting the information out and communicating with people in our county.”

Fletcher, who recently hosted a meeting with public officials to inform them about the app, said he envisions uses by city street departments, water-sewer boards, school districts, public utilities, volunteer fire departments, public service districts, private companies such as the Homer Laughlin China Co., and the Beaver Valley Power Station in Midland, Pa.

The sheriff’s department recently received a $30,000 grant from the West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey to help cover the app purchase and start-up costs. The county would then pay an annual fee of about $3,000, depending on the number of downloads, for the cost of maintenance and hosting.

The “Heads Up!” app will be available for free download at the Google Play store for Android devices and the Apple App store for iPhones.

Cities and other interested entities must first sign a memorandum of understanding with the county and receive training. There is no cost to them, and they control the individual notifications.

“This is strictly for informing the public of timely information that they would need,” Fletcher said. “There’s a whole generation out there that lives out of their phone – that’s how they get their information.”

The “Heads Up!” mobile app was developed by Mountain State Computer and Network Solutions, a Huntington-based company operated by the non-profit Foundation for Independent Living. Company profits go to support the foundation and its mission of helping people with disabilities achieve independence.

The app was first built for the city of Huntington and is now being developed for use by Hancock County and the city of Beckley, said Derek Chapman, Mountain State senior account executive.

“They’ll be released at about the same time,” Chapman said. “I think once people see how it works, they’ll like it. When it’s working, it gets information out to the users faster than any other media.”

Fletcher said he is looking at a launch date in May or June.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)