AT&T to add emergency alerts to cell phone system in Victoria


June 12, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
Updated June 13, 2013 at 1:13 a.m.

For those with cellphones who didn't receive a text alert when a funnel cloud twisted into Victoria last month, the explanation was simple.

"Y'all were on AT&T," Jeb Lacey, Victoria County's emergency management coordinator, said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd.

Lacey spoke to about 120 people Wednesday at the Victoria Chamber of Commerce's June luncheon. There, he updated them on emergency preparedness and alert systems.

The Wireless Emergency Alert system is an integrated warning program linking phone services, the Emergency Alert System and wireless services to deliver messages to the public, he said. Although not all carriers have finished rolling out such alerts, once AT&T rolls out its LTE coverage in July, Lacey said that hopefully all of Victoria will be covered.

Nationwide, about 97 percent of cellphones will be covered under the system, he said. That means that as soon as an alert goes out - as long as people haven't switched off their notifications - they will know.

"You're gonna have more accurate information, and actually have it just as fast as I do as the emergency management coordinator of Victoria County," Lacey said. "And that is a phenomenal, phenomenal improvement in our ability to warn."

Emergency personnel have other tools on hand for alerting the public, he said. That includes notifications through media outlets, reverse 9-1-1 and police or firefighters who drive down the street issuing alerts.

Sirens are absent from that list, he said, mainly because emergency personnel want to keep with systems that offer the public information it can act on - not one that simply tells it something is wrong.

Lacey encouraged everyone to have a weather radio on hand to keep them informed throughout emergency situations.

Preparation also comes in knowing what incidents to look for, Lacey said.

The county takes part in communitywide threat and risk analyses, he said, which give emergency personnel an idea when it comes to how to plan, train and prepare for future situations.

One study last year, for instance, honed in on hazardous materials. After that analysis, crews deemed transportation-born hazardous materials to be the area's highest priority at the time.

"So we did an exercise based on that exact scenario," he said.

Kristan Soto, a Dow manager who attended the luncheon, said she was glad to see the forethought that goes into emergency preparedness.

Victoria has limited resources, she said, but it's good to know there is a plan in place in case something were to happen.

Becky Arriazola, a business banker with Wells Fargo, also attended the presentation. She said emergency preparedness weighs on her mind this time of year.

Victoria has been fortunate, she said, when it comes to avoiding disasters.

"It just makes me stop and think sometimes, 'Are we next?'" she said.

Arriazola's husband works in law enforcement, she said, so she knows the training the various agencies go through to prepare.

"I think that if something were to happen, we'd be prepared," she said.



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