The Vail Public Safety Communications Center is asking for the community’s help as it prepares to test two emergency warning notification systems during the first week of May. The Wireless Emergency Alert notification is a federal system that allows local agencies to send alerts to smart phones in the area, even if they haven’t subscribed to the local EC Alert notification system. In addition to testing the Wireless Alert system, public safety officials will be evaluating a backup siren system for emergency notification.
Emergency management officials plan to initiate the local wireless alert test at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2 within Vail’s boundaries. This is the same notification in which Amber Alerts are sent to disseminate information about a missing person. During the test, anyone with a smart phone within Vail – residents, employees, guests and travelers on Interstate 70 between milemarkers 172 and 182 – should expect to receive the following alert: “EC EMO: TEST emergency message. Go to ec-e.org to provide feedback. No other action needed.” Variable message signs on I-70 will be used to alert travelers of the local test. In the event of a real emergency, this test will be postponed to another date.
Recipients of the test alert will be asked to assist the 911 call center by completing a short survey that will be included in the test message. This includes information about when they received the message as well as their physical location. To encourage participation, survey-takers will be entered in a prize drawing in which multiple $100 gift cards will be awarded.
Also on May 2, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., residents of West Vail may hear test messages broadcast over a speaker system as officials evaluate the effectiveness of a long range acoustic device that will be temporarily installed at the West Vail Fire Station. The device is a powerful, directional speaker that has the ability to be heard a quarter mile away. The test messages may also be audible inside buildings and will last 15 seconds at a time with a pre-recorded message: “This is a test of an emergency notification system, no action is required.”
Earlier in the day, the first local test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system will be used to determine the accuracy of the technology’s mapping as well as the time it takes to complete the notification. Because these wireless messages are limited to only 90 characters, recipients will be directed to ecemergency.org for more information, including a version in Spanish. In the event of a real emergency, the local wireless alert will begin with “EC EMO,” which represents the alert’s authorization by Eagle County Emergency Management Officials. The remainder of the alert would include a brief description of the emergency and what to do.
Jennifer Kirkland, 911 operations administrator of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, says the upcoming wireless alert test will be important in determining how the system will be used to disseminate critical emergency information in the future, including evacuation notices that need to be communicated rapidly to locals and guests. “Eagle County has a high number of guests on an annual basis,” she said. “The Wireless Alert System is one of the best tools we have to reach our guests in the event of an emergency. We want to make sure we are aware of its capabilities and limitations.”
Kirkland says the Communications Center has partnered with the Eagle County Public Information Officers Group to implement a community awareness campaign in advance of the May 2 test. Information is being distributed thorough local media outlets as well as outreach to lodges, businesses and large employers. In the event of a real emergency, official information will be available at ecemergency.org. The ability to survive a disaster is dependent upon developing a family disaster plan. Registering for emergency notifications at ecalert.org is an important first step. More information on developing a disaster plan can be found at ready.gov/make-a-plan.
The Eagle County Public Information Officers Group is seeking volunteers to help document the wireless test geographic reach. This includes locations in Eagle-Vail, Avon and Edwards. If you can help, contact Kirkland at 970-477-3413 by April 30.
During the test of the siren system in West Vail, the Fire and Police departments are exploring the potential use of a high power speaker system to assist in emergency evacuations and notification at outdoor events.
View a map of the May 2 wireless alert test area here or visit ecemergency.org for more information. For additional questions, contact Kirkland at 970-477-3413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.