Pittsburgh may expand emergency alerts
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As the city of Pittsburgh braced Monday for Hurricane Sandy, Councilman Corey O'Connor prepared to introduce legislation expanding the city's emergency alert system.
The city Monday provided storm-related announcements via Facebook and Twitter, but Mr. O'Connor said emergency alerts also should be sent out via land line and text message to residents who sign up for them.
Mr. O'Connor said the city also should consider using the alert system for a broader number of announcements, including bomb threats, Amber Alerts and accidents that close tunnels or halt traffic on major roads.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl supports the legislation, his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said, noting that text messages would be particularly effective for quickly delivering news to a mass audience.
Mr. O'Connor said he had been considering the bill, which he plans to introduce today, before Hurricane Sandy threatened to bring flash flooding and high winds to Pittsburgh.
He said Sandy presents the kind of situation that would lend itself to an enhanced emergency alert system.
While Facebook and Twitter are valuable vehicles for reaching some residents, he said, the city might be better able to reach some segments of the population, such as seniors, by automated messages left on land lines. Also, while the city Public Safety Department has an email alert system with about 1,500 subscribers, Mr. O'Connor said he believes email notification could be expanded and more frequently used.
Mr. O'Connor also wants to incorporate a messaging component that would allow the city to communicate exclusively with employees about cancellations, office closings and work details. He said the city will have to seek bids for the service and suggested paying for it with proceeds from advertising at city events or on city-owned structures.
Other municipalities already deliver messages by phone and text message. Mt. Lebanon, for example, has a LeboALERT program through which messages about life-threatening emergencies are delivered by phone and nonemergency messages are provided by text message and email.
Residents do not have to sign up for the phone alerts, but they have to register for the text messages and email. About 3,800 residents have signed up for the service, Mt. Lebanon spokeswoman Susan Fleming Morgans said.
Residents may choose the kinds of nonemergency alerts they receive.
In recent weeks, the municipality has sent nonemergency notices about high winds, trick-or-treat hours, the Halloween parade, leaf pickup and recreation classes.
First Published October 30, 2012 12:00 am