Hundreds of Champaign County residents were confused Wednesday evening when the county was under a tornado warning and their phones did not alert them.
Champaign County switched at the beginning of 2013 from sirens to a Code Red system, which notifies people via a home or cell phone of severe weather.
Now in its second year, Champaign County’s 9-1-1 communications director Vannessa Haley said even though the system only sent out 197 messages Wednesday evening, it worked as it should.
“It (the tornado) went Southeast of our county. So there was only a little portion of Champaign County that would have been alerted by the message,” Haley said.
The new system mirrors the National Weather Service’s alerts for severe weather.
Now, when the NWS sends out an alert for Champaign County, instead of tornado sirens in the county going off, as would have happened prior to 2013, only residents whom’s address is within the range of the warning are alerted via a phone call.
Kathy Martin, of Champaign County, said she has not signed up for the alerts yet and preferred the sirens.
“They were comforting. I was aware that it was coming. And you were just a little more prepared. It’s scary not being prepared,” Martin said.
She called this week’s storms “eye opening,” and now she plans to have her children or grandchildren sign her up for the Code Red system.
“We need to get it on our phone and put our phone by the bed, especially when things are coming in the middle of the night,” Martin said.
Champaign County has 23,000 phones signed up for the alert system.
Some of those are house phones, some cell phones and some households could have home and cell phones registered, so there is no way of finding out what percentage of the county is signed up, said Haley.
Martin said she remembers the county advertising the program last year when it started, but thinks it would be good to remind people who didn’t sign up last year about it.
Haley said the Emergency Management office is satisfied with how the Code Red system works.
Champaign County had so many people call in and ask why they were not alerted Wednesday, it sent out a test message Thursday explaining how the system works.
By Brian Bondus - Springfield News-Sun, Ohio (MCT)
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