EMA's emergency alerts getting boost

May 15—The April 15 fire at the Pinova plant in Brunswick proved again to local emergency management personnel what the Nov. 7 fire at the Symrise plant in Glynn County already had.

The county needs an emergency communications system that reaches everyone.

That new system will soon be in place after months of training and technical integration that began last November, said Andy Leanza, director of Glynn County's Emergency Management Agency.

He and his staff began working on bringing the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, on board after the Symrise fire. It will give them the capability to target certain areas or the entire county for wireless alert messages when serious disasters or emergencies occur.

"We can pick a specific area, we can send to the entire county and we can send these alerts to everyone, regardless of wireless carrier," Leanza said.

The IPAWS program sends alerts that go to all phones in the area designated by the sender, in this case the county EMA. The alerts appear on people's phones like Amber Alerts, Leanza said.

Using the system will allow the county EMA to notify people of serious alerts like evacuations for when hurricanes are approaching or when an emergency like an industrial fire is prompting shelter-in-place orders or evacuations.

Currently the county uses only the CodeRED system, which is useful and effective, Leanza said, but it is only sent to people who opt-in to the program.

"That is just one piece of the puzzle," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency had to approve Glynn County's use of IPAWS. Then Leanza and Deputy EMA Director Sharon Courson had to go through months of training on not just how to use the system, but also when.

"We are not going to spam you," Leanza said. "We're only approved for certain types of alerts, and they have to be of a serious nature."

That is why the months of training has been necessary, Courson said.

"We have been through a lot of training on this," she said. "We have to strictly adhere to certain parameters about what we send out."

That means IPAWS won't be used for things like severe thunderstorm warnings. That is something people can sign up to receive through the county's CodeRED system, Leanza said.

Using IPAWS is reserved for events like evacuations, events that are the most urgent of public safety messages, Leanza said.

The EMA will soon be fully authorized to use IPAWS without having to go through GEMA first as it did during the Pinova fire.

The system will add an important new piece to the communication puzzle, but Leanza and Courson said signing up for CodeRED is still something every Glynn County resident should do.

"They can chose the alerts they want to receive in CodeRED and how they want to receive them," Courson said.

That means if someone only wants severe weather warnings, they can sign up to receive only them.

To sign up for CodeRED go online to www.GlynnCounty.org/671/CodeRED.