WINSTON COUNTY - Severe weather is not just severe thunderstorms and tornadoes but winter weather, which can drastically hamper travel conditions. With that in mind, residents across Winston County are being urged to sign up for a new weather emergency notification system that has already gone online.
“First and foremost, register for the weather alert at bare minimum,” stressed Winston County Emergency Management Director A.J. Brown.
RapidCast, the county’s former alert system, lost its ability to provide alerts from the National Weather Service, county officials said.
“Something happened. They ended up losing that ability,” Brown pointed out. The county has not received notifications through RapidCast since August, 2020, he noted.
Once the county stopped receiving the automated alerts, the county EMA had to manually send out alerts from the NWS for each weather event to the 9,000 residents registered across Winston County to receive the alerts, officials said.
“That was usually about a 10-minute delay,” Brown noted. “I had to go in and manually trip off the mass notification. I typed out one message and was able to send it out to everyone instantaneously, but I had to have the time and the ability to get to a computer with internet access to do that.
“With a tornado warning, a 5-10 minute delay could be death,” Brown pointed out. “That 5-10 minute delay could make the difference in someone making it to that shelter or not.
“It’s vital that as soon as we get that information that we get it to the citizens of the county immediately,” Brown continued. “Any delay could be devastating.”
The four-year contract between RapidCast and the Winston County Commission was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.
“We tried to work with them to get that service fixed, but we never could get it fixed,” Brown pointed out. “I started looking for a new service.”
At their Dec. 13 meeting and on the advice of Brown, the Winston County Commission voted to discontinue RapidCast and implement Rave as the county’s new emergency alert system.
The RapidCast system cost the county $4,000 a year, but the fee was to have increased this year, according to Brown.
Rave will cost the county $5,200 a year, but will contain features the former alert system did not have. Rave is also a partner not only with the NWS, but also Homeland Security, Brown explained.
The new system will allow not just weather notifications, but also can alert residents in a specific area affected by a chemical spill or a hazardous material type of situation, Brown pointed out. These particular residents can be notified without actually being signed up for the new alert system, thanks to the integrated public alert and warning system through FEMA, Brown explained.
This system will, in the case of residents affected by a hazmat situation, send out alerts much the same as Amber alerts, officials said.
“With Amber alerts, you don’t have to be registered in a system to receive those,” said Brown.
Weather alerts, however, are done on an opt-in system, where residents need to register in order to receive the alerts, according to EMA officials.
Names and phone numbers of residents who were signed up for RapidCast weather alerts did not carry over to the new system, so a major effort is underway to get the contact information of residents throughout the county, so they can be more weather aware, Brown pointed out.
“So far, I have about 170-180 people who have registered on their own. The county has roughly 24,000 people. I would love to get at least 50 percent of those,” Brown said.
Residents can register to receive alerts by phone, text or email.
An automated system will send out alerts in the event of severe weather, through Winston County in coordination with the NWS, Brown said.
Brown is stressing people with mobile phones need to register, seeing that he has already added 4,300 landline numbers of addresses with Winston County zip codes, into the new system, he stated.
“It is not as much for landline phones. It is for cell phones and mobile usage,” said Brown.
The easiest way to register is access the Winston County EMA web page at www.winstonalema.org.
Upon accessing this page, click on the alert tab then click on the tab for registering for Rave smart 9-1-1 alerts. Upon accessing that page, click “sign up now” and provide your name, address, cell phone and email address.
“You have to have an email address to register,” Brown said. You also have to be a resident of Winston County.
After providing this basic information, residents can then create an account by providing their name, email address, and creating a user name and password, Brown explained. The resident then should provide a phone number, indicating if it is a cell phone or land line.
After completing the registration process, residents are urged to return to their profile and list any specific needs, such as if they are bedridden or in need of walking or wheelchair assistance, Brown pointed out.
“That information will allow us send people to you to assist,” Brown continued.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.