By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – Nowadays, it is rare for anyone to be without a cell phone. It’s a great way to stay in touch with family, friends and business associates, as well as catching up on local activities. But thanks to a special emergency communications app, CodeRED®, individuals as well as businesses can be alerted quickly if there are things such as fires, downed power lines, chemical spills, evacuations, weather-related problems, lock downs, or other emergencies in their community.
After seeing the success of the free app this past year, the Westborough Fire Department is urging residents and local businesses to sign up for it, if they have not done so yet.
“It’s very easy to [sign up],” Fire Chief Patrick Purcell said. “You can go to our website and sign up there. (www.town.westborough.ma.us/fire-department/pages/codered-emergency-alert-system). Or you can text WESTBOROUGHFIRE to 99411 and follow the instructions there.”
The app allows you to sign up for calls to your landlines and cell phones as well receive texts and email messages. You can sign up for one or a combination of the ways.
“It’s really important, if you rely mostly on your cell phone, to register that number,” Purcell said. “In some cases, such as a weather emergency, you many lose power and not be able to use your landline.”
“Also, if you are not in the area and an emergency occurs, you will be notified,” he added.
Deputy Fire Chief Jason Ferschke noted that one of the most helpful feature the app offers is it can geographically target a specific area.
“For example, if there was a downed power line in one neighborhood or development, we could just send the message to just that area,” he said. “You won’t be getting messages to areas that don’t apply to you.”
Earlier this year, officials were able to utilize the system during two separate emergencies involving missing residents. In both instances, the residents were found, allowing for them to receive the help they needed.
“We were able to broadcast out descriptions quickly,” Purcell said. “It’s a very powerful tool for us to use to help our residents.”
The app can be useful for many of the town’s departments including the Police Department, School Department, Department of Public Works, and Building Department.
Of course, officials hope that they will never have to use the app to notify users of serious townwide emergencies. But if they need to, they will be ready, they assured, to take the next steps after that notification.
Purcell and Ferschke are also the town’s emergency management director and assistant emergency management director, respectively. The Fire Department’s meeting room at its 42 Milk St. headquarters can quickly be turned into a command center, with videos that can monitor a television news station and a live stream from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The town also has a relationship with National Grid, allowing for information on outages to be shared – and hopefully resolved – quickly.
Westborough High School, 90 West Main St., is the town’s designated overnight shelter, in case of events such as weather emergencies. It is equipped with medical supplies, cots, wheelchairs and even dog crates.
“The challenge is always ensuring we have enough people to staff it,” Purcell said. “So we always do need volunteers.”