Tuesday September 11, 2012

Pittsfield and North Adams are launching messaging systems to alert residents in the event of an emergency in their communities.

Known as CodeRED, the system will send alerts via home phone, cell phone, email, and text to thousands of citizens within minutes. It can be used to target specific areas or the entire community. Pittsfield will have installed the system by the end of the month.

The system has already been installed in North Adams. A demonstration of the CodeRED system will take place at tonight’s City Council meeting, which will be televised live on Channel 17 of Northern Berkshire Community Television at 7:30. North Adams officials plan to test the system at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

CodeRED is provided by the Emergency Communications Net work of Ormond Beach, Fla. It has been adopted by communities in several states, including Mass achusetts, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Washington, and Wyoming.

In Georgetown, which is east of Lawrence, officials used CodeRED last month to alert residents about townwide spraying of mosquitos for the West Nile Virus, according to ECN’s website. Police in Tewksbury recently utilized CodeRED to seek help in tracking a burglary suspect. CodeRED can also be used for weather emergencies.

"I think it’s a great service and a terrific tool for the community," said Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. "It’s a very state-of-the-art notification system, and seems to be a real benefit to the public."

"We seem to have had a lot of natural disasters the last couple of years," said Bianchi, speaking in general terms, not specifically about Pittsfield. "We want to have the capability to notify people and this will do it."

North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright expressed similar sentiments.

"We have a reverse-911 system that is very similar, but it’s old technology," Alcombright said. "If I want to put out a notice to the community, it takes almost a day. This gives us much more flexibility. We can hit the entire database in 10 to 15 minutes."

In Pittsfield, citywide CodeRED calls will be activated only in the event of a serious weather or other emergency. Messages can inform residents in a neighborhood about topics such as missing children, road closures, hydrant flushing, mosquito spraying and other news that’s specific to them. All residents with public telephone numbers will be called in the event of a series emergency, but residents can opt out of the receiving non-emergency calls that are specific to their neighborhood.

The system will cost $15,375 to install in Pittsfield, with annual costs of approximately $5,000. Funding for the system will come from the Police Department’s budget, said Donna Mattoon, the city’s director of administration. In North Adams, funding is being provided through the city’s technology account fund.

CodeRED has already captured publicly available Pitt sfield phone numbers, but Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said the only numbers that are automatically put into the system belong to Verizon customers. Residents who have phone lines registered through other Internet-based system providers -- such as Time Warner Cable -- will need to register their number with the city.

All residents have the option of adding their cellphones and their email addresses to the database.

Pittsfield residents who would like to add cellphone numbers or email addresses to the CodeRED system should visit the police department’s website at pittsfieldpd.org or the city’s site, cityofpittsfield.org.

For those without access to the Internet, city officials will have a booth at the Third Thursday event on Sept. 20 to gather information. Forms also will be available at City Hall, the Police Department, the Berkshire Athenaeum, and all city fire stations so residents can fill out the information they’d like placed in the CodeRED system.

Those without Internet access in North Adams can visit either the North Adams Public Library or the Mary Spitzer Center, or call the Office of Public Safety at (413) 662-3101 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to supply their information over the phone.