Councilman: Residents didn’t know about travel advisory

What good is a travel ban if no one knows about it? That’s the question new Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Civiletto asked himself and then began investigating a solution.

He brought one option to the Public Safety Committee recently to consider.

“In the last couple weeks I’ve found people didn’t know about a travel advisory despite our strong social media presence online and advertising on the radio station and TV stations. This would send a text message right to your cell phone,” Civiletto said.

ONSOLVE’s CodeRED system is used by municipalities nationwide to notify citizens and anyone with the free app passing through of emergency or even non-emergency alerts.

The committee heard a presentation of the software’s features by Regional Sales Manager Pete Applegarth in a conference call. Applegarth said this software has been successfully used for missing persons, road closures, neighborhood watch alerts, active shooter alerts, and hazardous material spill alerts.

He said in Western New York, municipalities that use the software include Hamburg, Orchard Park, Elma, Lackawana, Depew and Allegany County.

Applegarth demonstrated the ease of use for sending alerts to different groups by phone and social media, as well as seeing up-to-date statistics on the alerts. He said the ONSOLVE works with phone companies to start populating a database for its customers. Based on that information, he said there are over 6,000 numbers on file and they would work with the city to spread the word to residents to signup.

The cost for the software is $3,900 for six to eight emergency calls per year, $4,900 for unlimited emergency calls and six to eight nonemergency calls per year, or $5,800 for unlimited emergency and nonemergency calls per year.

Police Chief Dave Ortolano said his concern is with residents having to sign up.

“He said it will automatically upload all the landline numbers, but a majority of people are on cell phones. So we would have to have people really make an effort to put their cell phones in there, otherwise it probably wouldn’t be worth it,” he said.

Special Events Coordinator Hector Rosas said his concern is the cost; he believes the same impact can be made with existing internal systems.

“My concern was three weeks or four weeks ago when we had a traffic advisory, I did not know about it until I called the mayor. … I wasn’t aware of it. The point is, I thought if I got a text message, it’s coming right to me, I don’t have to go to Facebook, I don’t have to go to Twitter, or someplace. Getting a text message, it’s going to alert me. Later that day, I heard from other citizens ‘I didn’t know there was a traffic advisory,'” Civiletto explained, adding this could also notify residents when plows have been deployed, cutting down on calls to officials.

Fire Captain Gary Katta said the city already uses the system IamResponding through the county for notifying emergency personnel and employees of situations. He suggested speaking with the county before moving forward.

“I think it’s a good idea, but I still think another avenue to explore is through the county. The Department of Emergency Services has a lot of technology. … From a fire department standpoint, we’re all for a safer community. So, I certainly wouldn’t discourage this, but I know he mentioned a few counties have this and that may be an avenue to look at,” he said.

Mayor Willie Rosas agreed.

“I want to commend Mike for bringing this up at your first meeting. A lot of people don’t know when things aren’t going right and certain people are getting a whole bunch of phone calls because they want to know what’s going on. If there’s a gap in there, then it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. Obviously, I don’t think we’re ready to move forward on this (program) for more reasons than one. If and when the time comes to move forward on more discussion on this, there is going to be policies and procedures, who’s going to be doing what and, the most important part of it, who’s going to be paying for it,” Rosas said.

In the meantime, the city posts alerts on its website as well as the police and fire departments’ Facebook pages.