A local research institution and safety officials across Franklin County are looking to develop a new mass warning and notification system that meets the needs of the 21st century.
Battelle and Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security hope to find ways to better communicate with the public about dangerous conditions related to the weather, chemical spills, accidents along major roadways and other incidents.
"There's no consistency in terms of what vendors they're using," said Kimberly Stamble, project manager for Battelle, which is conducting the needs assessment for the effort. "They're only capable of reaching a limited amount of people in the community. There's nothing countywide."
Residents are being asked to contribute input through public meetings and a survey at fcemhs.com.
Officials from the various cities, villages and townships will participate in focus groups designed to demonstrate their particular needs, Stramble said.
She said she sees web apps and other technology playing an important part in the project. Warnings about types of calamities, such as tornadoes, would be transmitted automatically. However, suburbs could customize their alert systems per type of distress, such as a water-main break, and at certain times of the day and particular areas of the county, she said.
"I think there are certainly increased capabilities that could be utilized to reach a broader audience or greater number of people in the community," she said.
Stramble said the needs assessment should be complete by July and the implementation should be complete by the end of the year.
Michael Pannell, director of Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security, called the new system a top priority.
"I would say we're anxious to get it done," he said. "I think an area of our size, with the population we have in Ohio, needs a 21st-century mass-notification capability.
"I think our job is to make sure it works and to coordinate with the 42 jurisdictions in Franklin County."
Jeff Young, fire chief for the city of Upper Arlington, said the city in November 2012 implemented UA Alerts, a mass communication system that sends notices to 15,000 households -- which could include multiple family members who receive the alerts via land lines and cellphones.
It's then up to residents to go into the UA Alerts system to create and update their account to use other means of contact, such as emails and texts, and to select non-emergency updates, including those from city services, construction, utilities, and recreation and parks.
"That's really the next generation of how we'll communicate," said Young, a member of the FCEMHS executive committee.