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Northampton tests new emergency messaging system

NORTHAMPTON — The city expects to test a new emergency system Wednesday by sending a message to more than 15,000 residents.

The message is intended to raise awareness of the new system, called CodeRED, although it will not actually be an emergency, said Kelly Banister, director of the city’s public safety dispatch center. The call is expected to occur at 4 p.m.

CodeRED is a high-speed emergency notification service provided by Emergency Communications Network that will take over as the key feature of the city’s emergency planning and communications outreach to citizens and city employees. The new system replaces BlackBoard Connect’s reverse 911 notification system that has been used for about four years to send emergency and general notifications.

Like BlackBoard, the CodeRED system allows the city to quickly notify residents about emergencies and other announcements by telephone, text messages, email and social media.

The new system, however, offers a mobile app and will give residents greater flexibility in choosing specific alerts they would like to receive. Residents can also sign up for multiple phone lines and emails. The old system allowed people to opt in or opt out, but did not allow for the selection of specific announcements, Mayor David J. Narkewicz said.

“It provides more flexibility and basically allows residents to create their own profiles,” he said.

The city’s contract with Emergency Communications Network is $17,900 a year, less than the annual $23,650 the city had been paying to BlackBoard, Narkewicz said.

The transition to CodeRED will likely be seamless for most residents who are already signed up for BlackBoard. All 15,352 subscribers have been transferred to the new system and will not have to do anything unless they would like to change the alerts they receive or the way their receive them. In that case, residents can visit the city’s website — northamptonma.gov — and click on the CodeRED logo to make updates. Residents and businesses not currently subscribed can sign up the same way.

The dispatch center will oversee the use of CodeRED.

“We are excited to use this technology to inform our citizens and to enhance public safety and awareness,” Banister said in a press release.

In addition to citywide announcements, the system allows officials to notify residents in specific geographic locations of hazardous incidents such as flooding, major storms, drinking water emergencies and missing children alerts. It will also be used to contact residents regarding parking bans, major road closures, large-scale events and other public notices.

Banister said a frequent complaint of the BlackBoard system was its inability to allow subscribers to stop getting certain messages, such as parking ban notifications. She said the city would see a rise in the number of subscribers opting out of the system during snow emergencies but then returning during other emergencies.

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