Emergency communications gear approved

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners approved changes in the communication towers and repairs to equipment that emergency officials say will improve communications for local emergency responders.

The commission also signed off on an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a program emergency service officials say will help with notification of the public in the event of a disaster/emergency.

Randy Lowe, 911 director, said plans are to relocate some emergency communications equipment to a Montgomery Hill tower site from the Loomis Ridge site currently being used.

“The Montgomery Hill tower is higher so it will mean a lot better coverage to the fire departments and the EMS (emergency medical services) agencies. It is the state’s tower, and the state is allowing us on their tower for free. This is just the equipment repairs and management,” Lowe said.

The costs total $12,885 and will be paid out of the 911 budget.

“We have been receiving some complaints there were some communication problems, so this should address those concerns,” Lowe said.

The bid limit for purchases is $15,000, if over that amount, bids must be sought.

In other business, Ed Hupp, Wood County Emergency Management director, urged commissioners to sign a memorandum of understanding with FEMA for the Integrated Public Alert and W.A.R.N.ing System that would improve emergency/disaster notification to the public.

“This is just the first step for the alert system for the public. I will be receiving additional training on it,” Hupp said. “We’ve been working on this since 2005. The alert system we have (Wide Area Rapid Notification) notifies the public through the landlines and cellphone users who have signed up through the website for the notification. But despite our best efforts only about 300 cellphone users have signed up for the W.A.R.N. system,” Hupp said. “By using this FEMA program, we can also use the cell towers to send out the messages,” he said.

“Maybe you need to do that differently for the signups. I didn’t know about it. Maybe you weren’t doing it the right way,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

In an emergency, IPAWS provides public safety officials with an effective way to alert and warn the public about serious emergencies using the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio and other public alerting systems from a single interface, according to FEMA.

Cellphone users can sign up for the W.A.R.N. system at the Wood County 911 website: www.woodcounty911.com.

The cellphone numbers are not given out publicly. They are just kept in the W.A.R.N. file, officials said.

“The system is used in the event of a tornado or some other emergency where the public needs to be warned. With the new FEMA program, the county would have the additional ability to take a cellphone tower in that area and use it to notify everyone within reach of that tower, including travelers through the area. I can see the benefits of the system. You are hitting the population in that area and the majority of people now use cellphones instead of landlines,” Lowe said.

Commissioners Wayne Dunn and Steve Gainer voted to sign the agreement with FEMA. Commissioner Blair Couch was not present for the discussion of the proposed program.