The Jefferson County department of emergency management is seeking to participate in the system used for sending emergency alerts to localized devices.
The program, known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, is a national program used for AMBER Alerts, severe weather warnings and other wireless emergency alerts. The system can be used by those in individual counties who have gone through appropriate trainings, though the county needs to enter into an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), first. Rebecca Squires, county emergency manager, said being able to use the system could benefit the county.
“Let’s say an incident happened during a large community celebration at Menan or the lake or something like that,” Squires said. “We would be able to contact every cell phone in that area using the IPAWS platform.”
Commissioner Shayne Young asked Squires if the program would cost the county anything. Squires said the county would not have to pay more than it currently is. She said IPAWS would be accessed through AlertSense. Outside of the meeting, Squires said AlertSense is a software the county currently uses to alert people who are signed up to receive Jefferson County Alerts.
“We already have the capability, now we just need the permission,” she said about IPAWS.
County commissioners voted unanimously in a Sept. 3 meeting to approve the agreement with FEMA.
Squires said the county will also receive two federal grants for emergency management. A grant of about $49,000 from the State Homeland Security Program has been approved by commissioners. Squires said the grant money will go toward emergency management equipment, exercises and public outreach. Squires said an Emergency Management Performance grant has also been approved and an agreement will soon be before commissioners. That grant, she said, will be up to $23,000 and will match what the county spends on items for the emergency management office. Squires said that would include salaries, benefits, cell phones, travel, training, etc.
Squires also received approval from the commissioners to attend two separate trainings this year and in spring of 2020. The first is the National Emergency Management Association Annual Forum, which will be held in Coeur D’Alene in October. Squires said the county would need to pay for travel and lodging, but said she has been told the registration of about $500 would be covered. She said the other training would be at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in March in Maryland, and much of the expense, including travel and lodging, would be covered by FEMA. Squires said she had a few more classes to complete at EMI, and could take the courses in Hayden, Idaho this fall. However, she said then, FEMA would not cover expenses, so it could be more beneficial for her to attend the March training.
“It’s less costly for the county,” she said.