It’s easy and fast to register online for Stark County’s new Wireless Emergency Notification System, yet only 3,000 of the county’s 375,000 residents have signed up for the free program.
The system was launched in mid-November by the Stark County Emergency Management Agency to replace the aging, outdated reverse emergency notification system used to notify residents of emergency situations via their landline phones.
The new system offers county residents the choice of receiving emergency alerts via email, cell phone text message or a voicemail left on either a landline or cell phone.
“We have to rely on people to register so they can stay informed,” said Tim Warstler, Stark County EMA director. “Traditional reverse 911 systems are no longer effective because so many people have gotten rid of their home phone lines.”
North Canton Fire Chief John Bacon – one of the first to register for WENS alerts – would like to see more city residents follow suit, for safety’s sake.
“People want information quickly, but they have to sign up to get it," Bacon said. "And it’s fast to sign up. You just log in and invest a few minutes in the whole thing, then forget about it. It’s kind of like insurance – only it doesn’t cost anything."
It’s unknown how many of the 3,000 people registered so far are North Canton residents, Bacon said, “because cell phone numbers aren’t location-specific like landline phones are.”
Warstler said what he sees in the WENS computer program is “a name, an email address and a phone number tagged to a map. (To issue an alert) you select an area on the map and it will send to everyone registered with an address in that area.”
So far, he added, text messaging is being chosen over other methods of notification by a 4 to 1 margin.
“We want to stress to people we won’t be sending weather alerts – not even for tornadoes – via this system. There are too many other ways for people to get that type of information,” Warstler said. “There will be one test message per year, then it will be used only for any large-scale events that would affect (people). We want to reserve this and we definitely want them to pay attention to this.”
Bacon said he could see WENS being used in North Canton for situations like a major hazardous materials spill or flooding along the Zimber Ditch.
“What we envision is alerts for something that’s affecting your house and you need to take care of it,” he said.
North Canton Police Chief Stephan Wilder said his department will not be using WENS to notify city residents about missing adults or children as the state of Ohio already has the Missing Adult Alert and Amber Alert programs in place.
“Our plan is to save the WENS for more of an environmental or other types of crises,” Wilder said. “It could be used when an area is blocked off or contained, where people need to stay in their houses … (because of) a threat or a dangerous situation.”
Wilder said he views WENS as “a fast, reliable notification system. It’s another tool in our toolbox to share with people, to keep them well informed and give them some sense of understanding that you might be involved in a pending crisis or situation that you might need to take action with.”
Warstler suggested that younger family members register for the seniors in their lives who lack computer skills or access. Those without Internet access can stop in at the North Canton fire station or the Mayor’s Office at City Hall (145 N. Main St.) with a picture ID and assistance will be given to get signed up for the free service. You may unsubscribe and stop the service at any time.