New alert system promises faster warnings in emergencies


A new warning system is aimed at getting Hoosiers to safety faster.

In Taylorsville, residents still remember a dangerous chemical spill at night.

"We were smelling it in about ten minutes," said Cliff Harp.

Right across the street from Harp's neighborhood, a vandalized tank full of dangerous anhydrous ammonia was leaking. Police had to go door-to-door through the neighborhood to order people to leave.

"Police officers came around and told us we had to leave the area," Harp said.

Neighbor Curtis Wetherald believes that delayed evacuations.

To speed up those warnings in Columbus and the rest of Bartholomew County, 911 center director Edward Reuter says, "We're going to be able, now, to turn that information around and call the citizens instead of them calling us, we will call them."

They've contracted with Everbridge, an Internet system that sends phone warnings, emails, texts countywide - or on just one street.

"Up until now, we have not had a good way of reaching out to our citizens, primarily for evacuations," Reuter said.

Folks can sign up for warnings on any number of devices and ask to get warnings for five geographical areas, like a child's school and your home. The warnings are available in 13 languages.

"You basically build it to your personality. Whether you want weather warnings or don't want weather warnings," Reuter said.

"That would be great. That's quick," said Harp.

They like it in areas hit by the 2008 and 2011 floods.

"If you're not here, you would still get a notification. We were actually in Ft. Wayne at the time of the floods," said Columbus homeowner Tim Staggs. "It would have been nice to know what was going on when it was going on."

Down the street, the Dunlaps live on flood alert now.

"They were saying in Indianapolis the floods are coming. Our daughter was calling us, but I walked out to the river and said 'No'," said John Dunlap.

He says an official text or call would have helped a lot.

The sign-ups begin in coming weeks. You will be able to sign up your phone numbers and email addresses from your personal device or go to a city library or another location, where you can get help registering.

If you have family not on the Internet, their numbers will be automatically entered into the database from the existing 911 listings. Those are basically the white pages.

The city will notify residents when it's time to register. Other Indiana cities and towns are also moving to the same or similar systems.