Gahanna City Council experienced a practical application of the CodeRED system for weather alerts during a May 23 committee meeting, when severe weather threatened the city and notifications were delivered to two officials via their cell phones.

Gahanna City Council experienced a practical application of the CodeRED system for weather alerts during a May 23 committee meeting, when severe weather threatened the city and notifications were delivered to two officials via their cell phones.

Just minutes before the notification, Mayor Becky Stinchcomb and emergency operations director James R. Williams were explaining the benefits of adding the automatic weather notification option and service that would allow Gahanna residents to receive warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and winter storms on their cell and residential phones.

Council is considering a three-year contract with Emergency Communications Network, operating the CodeRED system, with the first year at a discounted rate of $3,750 and subsequent years at $7,500.

Gahanna has used CodeRED for the past four years, but the current system involves the city manually putting out an alert that Gahanna records, said Brian Hoyt, the city's public information manager.

Williams said the opt-in notification system would allow residents to receive notifications directly from the National Weather Service's forecast office in Wilmington, near Cincinnati.

Stinchcomb and Williams have been testing the weather notification option, and they both received alerts Monday evening, before local media provided weather warnings to the public.

With the nation already experiencing more than 1,000 confirmed tornadoes this year, Williams said, it's not a question of if a tornado comes but when.

"We've always said warning is key to notifying residents," he said. "We want residents in Gahanna to have every means possible to get the message."

Council member Tim Pack researched CodeRED, based in Ormond Beach, Fla., and discussed weather notification systems with local media.

He learned the downside to a system like CodeRED is that residents could become complacent after a few notifications.

"People get called once or twice; then it becomes a nuisance," he said. "Is there a way to filter the calls?"

Stinchcomb said that's why it's an opt-in service only, with residents selecting the warnings they want to receive.

"If you want to register your home phone or cell, you can," she said. "This is very personalized. This depends if we want to go to the next step (of service)."

Pack said free systems for severe weather notifications from Wilmington are available.

"I agree, from a safety standpoint, that rapid communication is key to getting people to safe locations," he said. "Given what I've been told about the decline in usage of home phones and given everything else out there that's free, I'm not in favor of this if the only benefit is to call home."

Council president David Samuel said weather radios have become popular, with media helping residents program the devices at local Kroger stores.

"What does the weather radio do?" he asked.

Williams said weather radios provide alerts for weather watches, flash floods and "everything under the sun." Those alerts, however, include the entire county.

"The weather radio is in the home," Williams said. "This way (with CodeRED), if you register with a cell phone, you'll know a weather alert has been issued. If you're in Cleveland and your phone is registered for Gahanna, you'll get the call."

If council approves the proposed contract, the service would begin July 1 and continue until June 30, 2012, when the contract could be renewed.

If the city decides to discontinue the contract, a 30-day notice would be required for cancellation at the end of the first contact year.

"The calls are real, and they're made 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Williams said. "As soon as the National Weather Service declares a severe storm, you get the call."

Jefferson Township recently implemented the service for its residents, Williams said, and Gahanna residents would have the same opportunity.

Gahanna residents would opt in to the service by accessing the city website for registration at www.gahanna.gov.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

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