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Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp tries out a CodeRED mobile app on his iPhone while county Emergency Management Director Beryl Wernberg watches. Laurie Swenson | Bemidji Pioneer

Authorities can use CodeRED in many ways to help, inform public

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Authorities can use CodeRED in many ways to help, inform public
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI – If a storm, a gas leak or a suspect is poised to enter your neighborhood, would you rather receive a warning via a telephone call, text, email, app notification or page?

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When the CodeRED system is implemented in Beltrami County next month, you can get notified with any of these methods — or all.

The approximately 17,000 landlines in the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office’s database will automatically transfer to the new warning system, said Beryl Wernberg, the county Emergency Management director.

But from there, residents can add other forms of contacts and devices, such as cell phones, tablet computers and pagers.

CodeRED, developed by the Emergency Communications Network, was designed to enable local government officials to record, send and track personalized, voice, email, text and social media messages to citizens and staff. The system will be installed Nov. 1; Wernberg expects it to be fully implemented about Nov. 15.

“This is brand-new technology for us,” Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said. “It’s going to take a while for our staff to get comfortable doing it, (but) our dispatch staff is incredible. They’re quick learners.”

Personnel will receive training on the system in person and via webinars, and recipient groups will be created, such as a group for the media, which can register to receive information through the ways they wish.

“For us to be able to reach that many people is a very nice thing,” Hodapp said. “It’s very efficient.”

Once the system is ready to go, residents can use a designated website to directly submit additional calling data, email addresses and TDD/TTY requirements. Information will be immediately available for use in CodeRED. Users can import data groups with as many as eight points of contact, including email addresses.

“One of the things that really sold us on this is that deaf and hard-of-hearing persons can use this,” Wernberg said. “They can enroll their (telecommunications) devices just like anyone else.”

She would like to see people “sign up and take off” with the system, which is designed for ease of use. The county will likely hold a couple of town hall meetings to help people sign up.

Wernberg said that in Roseau County, “the ease of use is just amazing. The public has embraced it.”

Roseau County, while less populous than Beltrami, has some similarities, including the terrain, she said.

Hodapp said CodeRED is also very popular in communities along the Red River.

Dispatchers will send out warnings, Wernberg said, adding that she and Chris Muller, assistant Emergency Management director, can also send messages from home. “We can send updated messages as we go.”

Wernberg said if a suspect is fleeing officers in a wooded area, “we can ID all the people who live in that area, and this machinery will leave messages instead of us waiting for voice mail.”

A lot of people don’t answer their landlines at night, but they’ll look at their cell phones, she said.

After the coast is clear, the system will also send a message to that effect.

“Time saving and timeliness is a big deal,” she said, adding that quickly notifying a whole neighborhood of people at once also creates more opportunities for residents to notice something and contact authorities.

“I just see so many things we could do with this,” Wernberg said. “It’s an exciting thing.”

Instead of going door to door to notify residents of a gas leak, for example, one message can be sent out.

Hodapp said that during a storm, “the phones are ringing off the hook in dispatch.” With CodeRED, residents can get a message immediately, rather than call.

If the Internet is unavailable, “this company is there 24/7,” Wernberg said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office can give CodeRED its requests and the company will send them. “We have wonderful redundancy, which is the name of the game in dispatch land.”

Wernberg is happy that the CodeRED system will use the county’s up-to-date maps and will download the newest maps once a year.

She pointed out that near a mobile home court on U.S. Highway 2, Google Maps shows a road access no longer exists. The county’s map, however, is correct.

The system also provides additional points of contact for law enforcement personnel, Wernberg said.

App in action

Hodapp has downloaded CodeRED’s Mobile Alert app to his iPhone. Last week, he tried it out for the first time.

In addition to seeing alerts for Beltrami County, he was able to expand the search area on a map.

“Oh, is this cool,” Hodapp said as he played an audio message concerning a water leak in a city in Iowa. “Isn’t that just slicker than heck?”

He saw several other alerts on the map, including, from Montreal police, an emergency report of an elderly man who was missing in nearby Burlington, Vt.

“Once in a while, a kid goes missing in Bemidji or is found,” Wernberg said, adding that an area could be drawn on the map to cover a certain area, the residents of which would receive a message asking if they had seen a missing child, or if they were missing a child who had been found.

The app, available for smartphones or tablets, provides a location-based method to deliver messages from CodeRED. It will track a subscriber’s position and send push notifications to a device if an alert is issued for an area he or she is in.

Cost from 911 fees

The annual cost for the CodeRED service for the county is $16,538, based on the 2010 U.S. Census population of 45,264. The county is currently signed up for a one-year contract, and the money comes from the 911 tax on telephone service.

“We’re all paying a share of that,” Wernberg said.

The contract includes the system setup and training, 62,500 minutes, replenished annually; unlimited SMTP text, email and social media messaging; initial residential and business calling database supplied by ECN; integration and geo-coding of customer-supplied data such as 911 data and utility data; ECN standard mapping and geo-coding; 24/7 technical support; system time for testing and training; and design and hosting of the custom website for community enrollment.

“I think that’s a good bang for your buck,” Wernberg said.

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Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.
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