WHEELING - The public needs fast, accurate information when an emergency occurs, and local emergency management agencies have the ability to shoot needed alerts to residents' phones - both landline and mobile - during times of urgency.
Warnings even can be tailored to specific neighborhoods and communities, according to Lou Vargo, director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency.
Ohio County is among local counties linked to the CityWatch Emergency Communications Network, along with Marshall and Brooke counties in West Virginia and Jefferson County in Ohio.
"We type in the message we want to send out, then we go into a map," Vargo said. "If it only involves Triadelphia, we draw lines around all the homes in Triadelphia. The phone system then picks up all landlines in that area, and calls those homes."
Individuals without landlines who use cell phones, or who receive their phone service through an Internet phone provider should contact their local emergency agency to have phone numbers registered if they want to receive alerts.
The Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Agency can be reached at (304) 234-3756; Brooke County, (304) 737-5002; Marshall County, (304) 843-1130; and Jefferson County, (740) 264-4646.
Vargo acknowledged it can take some time for the CityWatch system to send out messages to individual homes and alert residents of danger.
"It depends on how big the area affected is," he said. "It may take hours if the problem is county- or region-wide. The larger the area, the longer it takes."
But he added each of the participating county systems has as many as 15 phone lines that can be accessed to send out alerts during an emergency, and these can be linked together to send messages to one specific community if fast notification is needed.
Vargo said multiple means of notifying the public are needed during an emergency, and the county will continue to use local media sources as the primary mechanism for alerts.
"A situation might even warrant us to have to go old school and have police and fire responders go into communities with lights and sirens to inform residents," he said.