Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel
Kennebec County's alert system different than FCC's
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 04/20/2008

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from the Kennebec Journal

Kennebec County's emergency-alert system operates a little differently than the newly-approved FCC program.

The county system, called PageGate, enables county crisis-management officials to send emergency messages via text message, pager, e-mail and fax, but only to first responders, school administrators and municipality officials. Several hundred key numbers are stored in the PageGate system. Individual citizens can't receive the alerts.

Though Maine residents might find a new sense of comfort in the FCC plan, having access to news of an emergency at their fingertips, officials such as Superintendent Paul Knowles say the county system gives them "some assurance" right now.

Knowles, who oversees Maine School Administrative District 11 schools in Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randolph and Pittston, feels confident with the PageGate system in place.

"Between Kennebec (Emergency Medical Services) and the Gardiner Police Department, we are always well-informed" about emergencies, he said.

PageGate has been used since January 2007 to alert emergency agencies and officials when there has been severe weather or flooding. Developed with a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security, it will continue to be used, no matter how the FCC plan will be deployed through cellular providers across Maine.

Kelly Amoroso, director of the Kennebec County's Emergency Management Agency, doesn't discourage Maine residents from signing up for the FCC service, if their cellular provider opts to support the service.

Anytime that officials "can improve their capability to alert the public to emergencies, it is a step in the right direction," Amoroso said.

Amoroso tries to use the system sparingly so "people will continue to take the alerts seriously."

When municipal officials are notified, they in turn are responsible for alerting citizens as they see fit. In Augusta, for example, citizens are warned about natural disasters through a federally funded system called "Reverse 911," which uses e-mail, pagers and fax to alert residents and business owners who opt to receive them.

Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said the city wouldn't rely on technology-based alerts alone during emergencies and citizens should "never underestimate the power of foot patrol."

"In the instance of a flood, if I send an e-mail to the building owner, but there are apartments with people upstairs and two businesses below, how do I know those people also got the message?" Audette said.

The technology, while valuable, he said, is "something that always needs to be updated."

Meghan V. Malloy -- 623-3811

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