LA County installs automated 911 alert call system

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Los Angeles County Thursday launched an emergency automated 911 alert call system. The system automatically connects to each of the county’s 7 million landlines, and can be expanded to include cell phones. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: They are the most harrowing moments of any Southern California wildfire. As flames approach homes, police race ahead, often through narrow, winding streets, to warn residents.

Sheriff’s deputy (on bullhorn): [siren] Mandatory evacuation. You need to leave immediately. Fire has jumped PCH. You need to leave now.

Stoltze: Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials say they may still use bullhorns as backup, but their new emergency notification telephone system will get the warning out earlier and faster during disasters.

Phone System: Hello. This is a message from the Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center. This is a test of the county’s new emergency mass notification system which will be implemented today.

Stoltze: The system makes a thousand calls a minute in multiple languages. If the phone’s busy, it calls back twice. If an answering machine picks up, it leaves a recorded message.

Phone System: Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been provided specific information regarding the emergency and instructions regarding what actions to take.

Stoltze: Riverside and San Bernardino Counties already have emergency notification phone systems. Orange County does not. Supervisor Chris Norby says he’s not yet convinced they can be used effectively. But Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has no such qualms about the
$2 million system.

Zev Yaroslavsky: There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have another rough fire season here in Southern California. And we’re going to have the opportunity to test this out in real terms, and it will save lives and it will save time, and it will make the jobs of our first responders much easier.

Stoltze: Getting residents out of their homes earlier often makes it easier to move firefighters and equipment in to fight the flames. L.A. County officials can select any number of residents to notify about disasters and other emergencies with their new system. Undersheriff Larry Waldie:

Larry Waldie: For example if you had a hostage situation at a particular house, we didn’t want the phone calls to go to that house, we could block off that house completely, advise all the neighbors that we have a hostage situation, we have a SWAT team there, you need to evacuate if that’s necessary.

Stoltze: The system’s already connected to landlines. Officials recommend you add your cell phone and e-mail. You can do that at alert.lacounty.gov.

Sheriff’s officials cautioned that while the new system is effective, people should not wait for a call to leave their home during a disaster. If you think you’re in danger, get out.