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Selectboard votes to join VT-Alert system

DUMMERSTON—Glenn Herrin, of VT-Alert and the state’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS), gave a presentation on the VT-Alert program at the Oct. 14 Dummerston Selectboard meeting.

He was joined by Dawn Hubbard, the town’s Emergency Management director.

The VT-Alert program, Herrin explained to the board, is part of the national, Web-based alert system that provides public safety notifications via email, phone, fax, cellphone, and text.

By signing on to the program, Herrin said, the board could designate town officials to issue alerts to the state’s dispatcher, who would then send out Dummerston’s messages via the VT Alert system.

Some of the messages, Herrin explained, are targeted notifications that go to relevant groups of people who signed up at www.vtalert.gov to receive the alerts — for example, a group of people living within a certain radius of an event, like a planned road closure.

A broadcast alert, Herrin said, is “more powerful.” These go to “everyone” via landlines, cellphones, and EAS (Emergency Alert System) messages through radio and television.

The broadcast alerts sent via cellphone go to any cellphone within range of a cell tower in the designated area, whether or not the person who owns the phone signed up, or lives in the affected area.

Herrin explained the process of signing up: the Selectboard would make and pass a motion, choose one or more people to act as notifiers to the state’s watch-person, and send a memo to DEMHS. Then, Herrin said he will train the notifiers.

“It can take about as little as a week,” to go from making the decision to being enrolled and ready, Herrin said.

Most towns, Herrin said, choose between three and seven notifiers, and those are usually the town’s emergency manager, someone from the fire department, and sometimes the sheriff. Herrin told the board the town should establish a hierarchy to ensure duplicate messages are not sent to the state watch-person.

Herrin noted there are 239 VT-Alert enrollees who choose to receive Dummerston-related alerts, and the system would allow the town to send messages to 1,051 landlines, even if they are not signed up. He said those calls are reserved for serious emergencies.

Hubbard told the board she thinks the system “is well worth it.” She mentioned how useful the alert would have been when the town highway department was replacing the culvert by the covered bridge — VT-Alert could have notified neighbors, allowing them to choose alternate routes.

She also noted the many transportation corridors going through Dummerston: Routes 5, 30, and 91, and the New England Central Railroad.

“If you have a HAZMAT incident,” Hubbard said, “you can instantly pinpoint [the accident location], do a radius, and let everybody know,” even visitors, via cell towers, “you’re going to be detoured.”

The board voted unanimously to enroll in VT-Alert.

When Herrin told the board VT-Alert Systems recommends doing a twice-yearly test — one in the spring and fall — and those tests can include non-emergency reminders, such as the date and location of Town Meeting, Board member Steve Glabach offered an additional suggestion.

“I’m just thinking, the Apple Pie Festival,” he said.

Glabach explained: “We can tell people, ‘Don’t come into Dummerston Center unless you want an apple pie.’’’

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Originally published in The Commons issue #331 (Wednesday, November 11, 2015). This story appeared on page D5.

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