Warning: Too few people signed up for emergency alerts

Llano River flood 2018

When disasters such as the October 2018 flood hit the Highland Lakes, residents signed through the emergency alert system at WarnCentralTexas.org will be notified via phone call, text, or email. File photo

A fear of Jim Barho’s was realized on January 22.

That day, a rocket engine test sparked a fire at Firefly Aerospace in Briggs, triggering an evacuation of residents within a 1-mile radius of the 200-acre facility.

Barho, the Burnet County Emergency Management coordinator, activated an alert system to contact the 55 people living in the area.

He was disappointed with the results.

“Ten of them answered, two didn’t, and forty-three had no contact information,” he said. “They hadn’t registered.”

He was referring to the emergency notification system at WarnCentralTexas.org, used by the Capital Area Council of Governments and its government partners, including Burnet, Blanco, and Llano counties. Alerts go out to residents by phone call, text, or email during disasters and other events affecting public safety.

For Barho, the number of people living in Burnet County who aren’t registered is too high. Out of about 48,000 residents, fewer than 24,000 are signed up.

In the past, residents were contacted during emergencies by landline phones linked to the 9-1-1 system. But more and more people are switching from landlines to cellphones, which aren’t necessarily connected to emergency management services or 9-1-1.

That means people must voluntarily register to receive notifications.

Registration at WarnCentralTexas.org is free. You just create an account and choose your notification preference of phone call, text, or email. Along with emergency notifications, you can opt in to receive weather alerts and non-emergency community information from local governments.

Barho encourages people living in the same home with different cell numbers to register each one.

While what happened in Briggs might be considered out of the ordinary, Barho pointed out the system alerts people to weather events such as tornados, floods, and hailstorms.

Without having cell numbers or email addresses, people who have landlines must be home to take the call.

“We have no other way of contacting you,” he said. “It’s only used in an emergency. The best way for safety is to register your cellphone. They’re going to go to you wherever you are.”

Barho said cell numbers are confidential and aren’t supplied to anyone who isn’t public safety personnel.

“We do not share the information with anybody,” he said.

While Barho agrees that rolling calls are annoying and that many people send calls from phone numbers they don’t recognize to voicemail, he believes the importance of WarnCentralTexas.org far outweighs any negatives.

That’s why he asks one question.

“Do you want to be notified if there’s an immediate danger to you?” he asks. “It’s a life-safety issue. It’s only used to contact them in life-threatening situations.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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