Columbia County residents can sign up to stay in the loop and receive notifications when an emergency affects your home, work or kids’ schools.

Emergency managers are urging those who live and work in the county to sign up to receive emergency voice messages, emails or text messages.

The department is using a new notification system: GeoComm GeoLynx Emergency Notification System Outbound Notification System, that can contact all residents in Columbia County during emergencies.

“We’re just getting it up and going,” said Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pat Beghin.

When an emergency occurs, county Emergency Management will be able to use GeoComm to send messages to phone numbers and email addresses registered in the targeted area.

It is a way to quickly inform those who work and live here about any sudden emergency; the system will be used for such emergencies as flood, fire, or a dam or levy break; terrorism or bomb threats; chemical leaks or gas spills; a train derailment; a sexual predator alert or prisoner escape; and missing children, elderly or disabled people.

In order for the system to work effectively, however, you need to visit the Columbia County website and register — especially your cellphone numbers.

With a database of both landline and cellphone numbers tied to locations around the county, it will allow emergency managers to target notifications to only those homes and businesses affected by the emergency.

The notification system will not be overused, according to Beghin.

“We want to save it for more the emergency-type problems,” Beghin said. “If we use it too often, people won’t pay attention to it.”

The notification system will not be used for weather events such as tornado watches or warnings — that information comes from the National Weather Service, not local officials, Beghin said.

Anyone can sign up to receive notifications that will involve their homes, places of work and the schools their children attend; register locations with your phone number.

Beghin encourages people to sign up with more than one address per cellphone number, in fact, and to also register children’s cellphones as well.

“You can put in more than one address” per number, Beghin said. Just remember to change your notifications when you move or get a new cellphone number.

After this initial period, GeoComm will update the Columbia County system on a quarterly basis, or more frequently if needed.

This is not the first notification system the county has used. The previous system, Code Red, cost the county $20,000 a year; that system was phased out at the end of last year. The move to the GeoComm system was possible due to updates to the dispatch center, Beghin said.

The system won’t cost anything except in the largest emergencies, when emergency managers will use GeoComm’s 500-line phone bank; the county will be billed per call.

“If we need to get a big message out to a lot of people quickly, we still have (access to that),” Beghin said.

The phone messages will be in a computer-generated voice, Beghin said, and will give information about where to call if you have questions.

The information submitted will remain private; it will never be sold or sent to other businesses: privacy was a priority when the county was looking for which company to use for the notification, and the information will not be sold or given out.

“It is all protected,” Beghin said of the information. “They’re very firm on that. They’re not going to share that with anyone else. ... We don’t want it used by anyone else.”

Portage residents should also sign up with Nixle, which is used by the Portage Police Department for notifications, such as of snow emergencies and sexual predator notifications.

Stay informed

Sign up to receive emergency notifications about home, work and school from Columbia County’s Outbound Notification System. Sign up at www.co.columbia.wi.us, then “Outbound Notification System” on the left-side menu; or print a form to send to Columbia County Emergency Management. Residents can sign up to receive emails, voice messages, and/or text messages. Portage residents should also sign up with Nixle, used by the Portage Police Department for emergency and community notifications; sign up at www.nixle.com.

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