‘It is critical’: Residents urged to sign up for Reverse 911 emergency alert system

Photo illustration. | Photo by Pashalgnatov, iStock, Getty Images Plus St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  When people think of emergency alerts, they often think of a distinctive, less-than-pleasant sound coming from their disabled cell phones.

Photo illustration of young woman covering mouth in astonishment while reading message on smartphone.| Photo by
Feodora Chiosea, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

This is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System or IPAWS. IPAWS was created by the federal government following Hurricane Katrina. This system allows for an SMS-text message of up to 90-characters to be disseminated through cell towers to all cell phones within a certain geographical radius.

Many Washington County residents have received IPAWS messages over recent days as wildfires have raged across the county, but they may not be aware of a secondary emergency notification system called Reverse 911.

In the past week alone, three different wildfires have caused evacuations in Washington County population centers. With this year’s severe fire conditions, the Washington County Emergency Services team considers it imperative that more residents have access to critical emergency information.

IPAWS  has some limitations. While all cell phones are programmed to receive IPAWS messages within their geographical boundaries, ensuring follow-up information makes its way to affected individuals who were evacuated outside of the designated alert area can be difficult. The Reverse 911 emergency notification system bridges that gap. 

Reverse 911 is different from IPAWS in that it has access to landline phone numbers, but not cell phone or email information unless individual users have registered for the system. If follow-up information regarding an emergency is sent, residents will not receive it via email or cell phone unless they have registered for Reverse 911. “It is critical for people to have access to both options. During the recent fire evacuations, we had a lot of evacuated people asking why they never received any follow-up information,” said Jason Bradley, Emergency Operations Manager for Washington County. “The answer is, if you haven’t registered for Reverse 911, you won’t.”

Smoke billows from Turkey Farm Road Fire heading toward hundreds of homes off of North Green Springs Drive, Washington City, Utah, July 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of
Kristen Hodge, St. George News

Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox, former Director of Emergency Services, cautioned that Washington County is only halfway through the fire season. “With the current conditions, it is likely we will see more wildfires this year. Additionally, fires like we have already experienced often lead to flash flooding.”

To register for Reverse 911, residents should go to 911register.com.

If residents need additional assistance, they can contact the Emergency Operations Center located inside the main Washington County Administration Building at 197 E. Tabernacle Street or call (435) 634-5734.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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