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Treasure Island debuts system to alert residents

Published Aug. 27, 2013

TREASURE ISLAND — City residents can now receive direct notification of emergencies such as contaminated water, approaching storms and evacuations by having 911 call them. The city is asking residents to register for its new emergency notification service named FirstCall.

Through emails, phone calls and text messaging, the automated system will advise Treasure Island residents of a variety of situations from lost children and road closures to weather advisories.

"Over the past few years, we have experienced bridge construction, road closures, hurricane threats and other emergency situations where we informed people through the Treasure Island government cable TV channel, e-alerts and local media," said city technology director Mark Santos. "Now we are taking it a step further."

Residents who register for the system can receive up to four notifications about emergencies through land lines, cell phones, email and text messages, Santos told city commissioners last week.

The service, which costs $5,000 annually, officially started Aug. 20. It is free to residents and businesses. Even noncity residents can sign up by using a city address like the Treasure Island City Hall or post office. Residents without computer access can sign up at a computer terminal at City Hall.

Santos called the system "another tool in our toolbox to get information out to residents." Notices sent out also automatically post to the city's Twitter account.

Pinellas County recently signed a $165,000 contract with FirstCall, a private business in Baton Rouge, La., that sets up a cooperative which allows municipalities and agencies to participate. Others expected to begin using the system by Oct. 1 include the Pinellas County Health Department and Sheriff's Office, the city of Gulfport, the city of Belleair and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Currently, Treasure Island and the St. Petersburg Police Department are the only systems operational, Santos said. Once the county is online, Treasure Island residents also will receive county notices that pertain to them.

The system is activated only when there is a risk of significant harm, an urgent threat or when a general notification as in the case of an evacuation is needed.

Jeff Jensen, the city's public information officer, said the city can now push information through landlines connected to the 911 system.

"But most people aren't home all the time so by registering through FirstCall we can send those messages to their mobile devices," he said.

Residents can go to mytreasureisland.org/firstcall.htm to register or for more information.

"I just got a notice from Reid Silverboard, our city manager, who said he had registered and it was so easy that even a city manager can do it," Jensen joked.

Santos said another advantage to the system is that call lists of city employees can be set up so notifications can be sent about when and where to report to work during an emergency.

The emergency call system also can target specific areas of the city, such as notifying residents within a certain neighborhood of a water main break or a police manhunt, he said.

Santos is guessing that within a year about 30 percent of the city's 6,900 residents will have signed up.

The city is trying to get the word out by talking to the chamber of commerce and civic associations.

"We are hoping to get city commissioners to champion its use," Santos said.

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