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Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Published: 7/7/2006

An 'inconvenient' emergency

MAYBE some folks in Ann Arbor need to chill. An emergency notification system that jarred thousands of households awake recently with a late-night telephone alert had many residents hopping mad and complaining to police.

But they should be glad their community even has a progressive program like Code Red, which can automatically call people with a recorded message about an emergency.

The problem in Ann Arbor was that the system sent more alerts than necessary just before midnight Sunday because an employee had not been fully trained in its operation and inadvertently alerted residents citywide.

Deputy Police Chief Greg O'Dell said the person who triggered the 11:47 p.m. alert didn't know how to limit it to a specific area. The system is intended to target an area most affected by an emergency.

Instead of sending the alert out to 20,995 households in Ann Arbor when an elderly Alzheimer's patient disappeared, the emergency call should have been more limited in scope.

But the Internet-based program still worked the way it's supposed to by automatically alerting residents to an urgent matter that, fortunately, was resolved shortly thereafter. The 94-year-old man who had wandered off was found safe, and police stopped the alert within 30 minutes.

Police said CodeRed has been used 11 times in Ann Arbor since January to alert residents about everything from approaching bad weather to missing people and even a barricaded gunman near a school.

But all of the telephone notifications in those cases came during daylight hours. More than a 100 residents called police to complain when the last alert was triggered too late at night, disturbing sleeping households.

If only emergencies happened at more convenient times and if only those directly affected had to be bothered by the news. The day after the late-night alert angered residents, Police Chief Barnett Jones offered an opt-out feature to those who want no part of the CodeRed system.

That would certainly minimize unnecessary disturbances, but doesn't opting out defeat the purpose of a community alert system in which neighbors help neighbors? The greater tragedy than an unwanted late evening phone call would be an unheeded emergency.



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