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Phone alerts called ‘useful resource’ in Sherwood standoff

With a couple of mouse clicks, emergency dispatchers warned hundreds of residents in a quiet Charleston neighborhood to stay inside while police were involved in a standoff with a heavily armed neighbor.

A little more than 170 calls went out Monday morning to residents in the Sherwood Forest subdivision near South Hills. The residents were told by a recording that Charleston Police were on the scene of a priority incident in the subdivision and that they should stay inside their homes.

It's a message that probably saved lives as Mark Bramble, 49, was shooting inside and outside his Cornwall Lane home Monday morning. Charleston officers at the scene reported hearing projectiles whistling by them and striking trees and bushes as they moved between houses across the street.

"It is an efficient and useful resource for emergency services to be able to notify the public in a timely manner of emergencies in their neighborhood and it helps law enforcement and other emergency services do their job," said John Rutherford, Kanawha County Sheriff and director of Metro Communications.

"A lot of times like what happened in Charleston, I can remember in the past where you had incidents like this you spent half your time trying to keep people away from the scene and out of harm's way. But this ring down system is helpful because people are notified without us having to go door-to-door and putting officers in danger."

Rick McElhaney, agency coordinator at Kanawha Metro 911, said the agency has had the capability for about five years. Sometimes it's used four or five times a month and sometimes less frequently. It all just depends on the situation.

The incident commander responding to the scene in Sherwood Forest Monday made the request for "ring-down."

He recorded the voice message and typed up the text and email message that would go out. Then, he used a mapping program, similar to Google maps, to pinpoint exactly where the message would be received. With a few clicks of the mouse, the message was sent and the neighbors were warned.

"It's a benefit," McElhaney said. "It gives people the opportunity to stay indoors. There's always the curiosity you have to fight."

He said about 172 calls were made to landlines and cellphones tied to addresses in that area.

The system has access to every phone number listed in the phone book and 2,800 more unlisted or cellphone numbers of those who have "opted-in" to the program.

More and more residents are moving away from traditional landlines. Phone numbers and email addresses are tied to physical addresses.

"Because texts are limited we try to keep it as short and to the point as we can," McElhaney said.

The messages could be area specific, like Monday's where a hand drawn map was used to target recipients, or the dispatcher could pinpoint an address and use it to create a range, McElhaney said.

Swift Reach isn't specific to violent issues. Metro used it in the past to alert residents in the areas surrounding the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute following the August 2008 explosion. It also was used in last summer's derecho to notify residents of Appalachian Power's estimated service restoration times.

He said it's used often for severe weather or to alert people of a power outage.

McElhaney said the calls don't always go to residents but in some cases are specific to emergency responders and those in key leadership roles, for example an emergency at Yeager Airport.

While the service isn't available outside of the county, those with cellphones who commute can use it to get alerts if they use their work address or another Kanawha County address.

A number of people with cellphones and unlisted telephone numbers have opted in to the service, but McElhaney hopes more will do the same.

To sign up visit www.metro911.org and click on "Sign up for Emergency Notifications by Phone, Text and Email."

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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