New notification network allows city to quickly communicate with residents

Christina Suttles

Before May 2013, employees responsible for security and upkeep throughout the city of Kent relied solely on radio broadcasts and web-based press releases to alert residents of local emergencies and scheduled maintenance.

City officials now use a more expansive, immediate emergency notification system they say allows them to communicate effectively with the public called Swift911, making daily interactions more convenient and safe.

Previously, if authorities had to temporarily close a road due to a traffic accident that posed a significant risk to the public, officers and fire personnel couldn’t confidently ensure people in the surrounding areas would be notified.

“Typically the radio stations would pick [press releases] up, but you’d have to be listening to that radio station,” said Eugene Roberts, Kent’s public service director.

Swift911, an electronic security notification system, allows city officials to contact residents via telephone, text or email almost instantaneously by putting out approximately 10,000 calls per minute during a security threat, Roberts said.

The service is used by more than 1,500 organizations worldwide, according to the network’s distributors website, SwiftReach Network Inc.

Residents with a landline registered in Kent, Franklin Township or Sugar Bush Knolls were automatically entered into the database during its implementation earlier this year, but Roberts said anyone who wants to receive calls or texts to a mobile phone must enter his or her information on the city’s website.

The system isn’t just used for emergencies. The Kent Service Department uses it to alert residents about circumstances such as waterline breaks and community leaf pickup. They can also specially program what time the alerts are sent, as to not wake residents during a non-emergency.

“For example, we did our fire hydrant flushing and we drew boundaries around the areas that were flushing fire hydrants,” Roberts said. “We notified residents that the flushing was going on in their neighborhood and the potential threat would be some brown water…don’t wash your clothes during the brown water until it flashes into the system.”

Roberts said that currently, approximately 7,200 residents are enrolled in the program, which costs less than $20,000 to originally implement, and about half that cost per year to operate.

Only authorized individuals in each division of Kent’s public safety department have access to the system in order to ensure information is kept private. Within the Kent Police Department, most supervisors and dispatchers are authorized to send alerts, said Jayme Cole, Kent Police Support Services Captain.

Cole said the police department uses the system to expose anything that presents an ongoing or future public safety risk to the community.

“One example: there was a traffic crash where a tanker carrying some sort of hazardous material, it was leaking,” Cole said. “That’s the sort of thing we could activate the system for.”

However, the police department also uses the system for more than just community notification.

“On a daily basis we use it to page the dispatchers,” Cole said. “We dispatch for the Kent Fire Department and use it to page the firemen when they need to fill their stations.”

Roberts suggested that many elderly residents who don’t have access to the technology required to receive updates have family members keep track of the security in their area. Residents can log in and see what is going on in different parts of Kent and notify friends or relatives. People without access to a computer can submit a form to the City Manager’s office if they wish to be added to the database.

For hearing-impaired residents, a teletypewriter option is offered.

The benefit is not only from a safety standpoint for residents, but the program also heavily influences students, Roberts said.

“Let’s say you live at 123 Main St. and the water’s out. You’re notified while you’re in class, and you know you have to go home and shower before you go to work,” he said. “You may be able to make arrangements in class to have someone let you use their shower.”

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].