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Emergency alert system gets the word out fast in Kandiyohi County

Tribune file photo Debris litters the roadside, a field and areas of Arnold's of Willmar after a tornado blew through the area south of town on July 11, 2008. Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared in the event of severe weather. The service is free and "easy to sign up for." 1 / 5
Tribune file photo Turkeys are left without shelter after a 2008 tornado lifted one of the barns at this farm site south of Willmar right off its foundation. Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared in the event of severe weather. The service is free and "easy to sign up for." 2 / 5
Tribune file photo Turkeys are left without shelter after a 2008 tornado lifted one of the barns at this farm site south of Willmar right off its foundation. Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared in the event of severe weather. The service is free and "easy to sign up for." 3 / 5
Tribune file photo Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared for severe weather situations. This tornado hit south of Willmar on July 11, 2008, causing extensive damage to businesses, farm sites and anything else in its path.4 / 5
Tribune file photo Trees are down, the house damaged, and turkeys left without shelter after a tornado swept through an area south of Willmar in July 2008. Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared in the event of severe weather. The service is free and "easy to sign up for." 5 / 5

WILLMAR — Communication technology is changing rapidly but the need to notify the public of emergencies is as urgent as ever.

That's why Kandiyohi County Emergency Management is urging people to register for its Citizen Alert System in order to be informed and prepared.

The service is free and easy to sign up for, said Kim Lindahl, director of Kandiyohi County Emergency Management, and Ace Bonnema, deputy director.

In an era when landlines are increasingly being replaced with mobile forms of communication, it also helps ensure the message quickly reaches those who need it, they said.

"A lot of people are getting rid of their landlines. As technology increases, it makes our job of notifying people harder," Bonnema said. "We want to make sure people are getting reliable information. This is going to be the way the county gets the word out."

The county began using the system, called Everbridge, in 2014. It's also used in Big Stone County, where Kandiyohi County provides law enforcement and public safety dispatch services.

Although the county will continue to use its traditional telephone database for critical notifications such as tornado warnings, evacuation notices and Amber Alerts, the Citizen Alert System is faster and more flexible.

Users can register for an account at www.co.kandiyohi.mn.us and customize the alerts they want to receive: tornado watches, flood advisories, winter storm watches and warnings, frost warnings and more.

Multiple options are available, Lindahl and Bonnema said.

Alerts can be delivered by phone, text or email. Users can choose alerts for multiple locations — for example, if they live in one town and work in another, or are caregiving for a parent who lives in another town. They also can choose alerts for multiple phone numbers and email addresses.

Don't have a computer or smartphone? You can still sign up to receive alerts via a landline; call Kandiyohi County Emergency Management at 320-235-5133 for help in setting up an account.

Users cannot opt out of certain key notifications, such as tornado warnings, or emergency announcements that come from the local dispatch center. But for the most part they can tailor their account to the alerts they want to receive.

For dwellers of downtown Willmar, there's an option that lets them know when snow emergencies go into effect so they can move their vehicles off the street, Lindahl said. "They can get those to their phone right away."

Dispatchers also can use the system for specific local announcements, she said. "It could be anything from train derailments to hazardous material incidents. It gets the message out quicker."

Last summer after a 10-inch rainfall drenched parts of the county, Emergency Management used the alert system to notify the public that Red Cross cleanup kits were available and where to pick them up, Lindahl said.

The system doesn't eliminate the need to pay attention to weather news and changing conditions, Bonnema said.

But the more people who are signed up, the better the county's ability to get out the word directly and efficiently, especially when it's critical for the public to be prepared, he said.

"This is our way of helping them do that," he said. "For us it's just another tool."

Be prepared for Thursday drill

This week is Severe Weather Awareness Week, a time for Minnesotans to plan for severe weather threats and brush up on their skills and emergency preparedness kits.

Signing up for the Citizen Alert System, available in Kandiyohi and Big Stone counties for sending notifications via phone, text or email, is one way the public can help ensure quick access to reliable information about severe weather and other potential emergencies.

Users of the Citizen Alert System will have two opportunities Thursday to see how well their account settings are working. Test notices will go out as part of the annual statewide tornado drill at 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Thursday.

The public is urged to sign up ahead of time for the Citizen Alert System so they can practice during the drill.

Those who already have an account are encouraged to check their contact information and make changes or updates to ensure they continue receiving alerts.

Each day of Severe Weather Awareness Week focuses on a different weather safety topic. Alerts and warnings were highlighted Monday; severe weather, lightning and hail Tuesday; floods Wednesday; tornadoes Thursday; and extreme heat Friday.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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