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New emergency notification system coming to Bee County
by Jason Collins
Jan 23, 2011 | 965 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bee County residents will be a little safer, or at least know more quickly when danger lurks, with the approval of a new emergency warning system.

David Morgan, emergency management coordinator, said, “Bee County doesn’t have an effective notification system to get emergency information out to the public.

“We have a siren in the middle of Beeville that sounds when there is a tornado or fire.”

But for those in the county, their notification is often from deputies driving through the area with loudspeakers warning of the danger — which, as Commissioner Ken Haggard explained, often places them in danger.

“If we have immediate requirements for notifying our population of hazards or evacuations... we cannot effectively communicate with a majority of our population in a timely manner,” Morgan said during the court’s meeting Jan. 10.

Last week, commissioners voted to approve the use of Blackboard Connect — a company that is able to send out emergency phone messages, text messages or faxes.

The benefit of this company (over the plethora of others) is that it is able to send out the emergency messages through a variety of media.

“A lot of people don’t have home phones. They have cell phones,” Morgan said. This system can either send an automated message to a cell phone, a text message or even a fax.

“The chances of reaching someone are greatly increased.”

About a month ago, the city approved the same system for emergency notifications.

“Beeville school district has contracted with Ed Connect, which is another of the services this company provides.”

The cost for the system this year is $6,106.27, which is based upon the number of addresses in the system.

Morgan reminded that the Emergency Management Grant could end up paying for half the expense. “I included this cost in my request for the state grant,” he said.

The grant will only pay for 50 percent of the expense, which still puts commissioners in a bind as they tried to find a funding source.

Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr., who abstained from the final vote which got the rest of the commissioners’ approval, opposed the county signing with Blackboard Connect strictly for financial reasons.

“I am a stickler with funds right now — this year especially,” he said. “I know we need to build up our budgets. We need to look at everything.

“I know the Expo Center has some lights that have been down over a year.”

Salazar said that he would prefer not to spend the money but to keep it and build back up the county’s reserve and possibly give raises to the employees.

“I don’t support it simply because of that,” he said.

He also reminded that the court discussed this during this past year’s budgeting process and declined it because of the expense.

Morgan said that while he understood the county’s financial situation, it was his job to bring the request to the commissioners.

“The bottom line for me, as an emergency manager, is I want to be able to get information out to the public real quick,” he said.

He also reminded the commissioners that other counties, such as Freeport, have used the system to generate money for the county.

“This is not just an emergency notifications system,” he said. “This is an information system. One of the justices of the peace once a year did an amnesty program on outstanding traffic tickets in the county.”

The judge would put in the names of those with warrants into the system and it would use the emergency numbers listed to call them and tell them of the warrant.

That simple method generated about $30,000 in paid fines and fees.

“Other jurisdictions have used it for collecting taxes,” Morgan added.

Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said that his main concern for wanting the system for the county was one of safety, which is why he made the motion to have it implemented — assuming commissioners find the funding.

Commissioner Dennis DeWitt also reminded, “How much is a life worth? If we save one life in a year, it is very inexpensive.”

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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