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Supes look to upgrade 'Reverse 9-1-1' system


Last updated 12/1/2006 at Noon

In March 2005 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the solicitation of proposals for a community emergency notification system, sometimes known as “Reverse 9-1-1.” On November 14, 2006, the supervisors voted 5-0 to issue a solicitation for an upgraded system.

“We’re continuing to see new technologies emerging each day,” said Supervisor Greg Cox.

Reverse 9-1-1 is considered valuable and cost-effective but has vulnerabilities, most notably the fact that calling home phones through traditional phone lines omits those who use wireless or text-based technology and also assumes that the traditional phone lines remain intact. In addition, the current Reverse 9-1-1 system allows up to 11,520 calls per hour based on broadcast messages of 30 seconds and based on the capacity of the current 96 telephone lines located in the Sheriff’s Communications Center, although additional phone lines can be added during disasters at an additional cost. That volume allows for notification of small communities in the event of a disaster, but higher-volume systems would allow for notification of the entire county in the event of a major disaster and increased efficiency of newer systems would allow for “load balancing” and routing capabilities to ensure that residents receive calls even though phone systems are often overloaded following a disaster.

The mass notification system would allow all of the county’s 1.1 million households to be notified within 90 minutes of an emergency. “This system will allow the county to place in excess of 800,000 calls per hour,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

The new systems can also send messages to e-mail addresses, pagers, fax machines, instant messengers, and personal digital assistants as well as telephones.

The supervisors’ approval carries an estimated $8,000 cost for the solicitation process, although firms which respond to the solicitation will be given the option of an annual fee with unlimited messaging capability or a pay-per-use model since preliminary sampling of the market provided a range of fee arrangements. Information on the cost and the source of funding will be brought to the supervisors after preliminary selection of a bidder by county staff.

The selection process is expected to take approximately four months. During that time the county’s Office of Emergency Services will consult with the Unified Disaster Council, a joint powers authority which consists of the county government and the county’s 18 incorporated cities, to explore funding options. “We must remember that ultimately the implementation and funding of any such system must be a regional effort,” Cox said.

“Looking forward to seeing the results, and more importantly looking forward to seeing this in place,” Roberts said.


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