By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The town's new Code Red emergency notification system is now live and at least for now will be reserved for true emergencies, the Board of Selectmen were told during its Jan. 27 meeting.
Town Administrator John Coderre said after exploring several options, Northborough signed a three-year contract worth $7,500 annually with Florida-based Emergency Contact Network (ECN), which operates Code Red.
The system will replace the county-wide Reverse 911 program, which has not been operational for nearly two years now.
ECN Regional Sales Director Peter Applegarth said the Code Red system has been used to rapidly distribute emergency notifications in a number of recent high-profile incidents, including the Boston Marathon bombings, when the campus of MIT was informed of a lockdown with the system, and during super-storm Sandy, when some 15 million people along the East Coast received emergency notifications through Code Red.
More recently, the system was credited with helping police in Sterling locate a missing autistic child, Applegarth said.
Using the system, town officials can record voice messages of up to two minutes in length and send them to either the entire community or targeted neighborhoods or streets. Applegarth said every one of the 5,500 households in Northborough could receive a message in as little as 10 minutes.
Messages can be sent to landlines or mobile phones and Coderre urged residents to follow links from the town's website to update Code Red with as many points of contact as possible.
“Put all of your family's mobile numbers in there–we want to be able to reach as many people as possible when we need to,” he said.
Although some communities use the notification system to alert residents to everything from changes in trash collection dates to upcoming town fairs and other events, Coderre said Northborough plans to initially use the system only for true emergencies.
“We made the decision that this is an emergency system and we don's want to overuse it,” he said, adding that the decision could be revisited in the future.
Selectman Aaron Hutchins said recent low voter turnout suggests residents may benefit from using the system for election day reminders.
But fellow board member Jeff Amberson compared the system to the AMBER Alert network used to notify of a missing child.
“Law enforcement is very careful how they use the system so people don's tune it out,” he said.