Post-snowstorm: City may hire outside firm for reverse 9-1-1 emergency calls

The city is looking into whether to use an outside company to distribute messages to the public during emergencies, such as the major snowstorm of Feb. 8 and 9 that left parts of the city snowed in for a few days.

Police Chief Joel Hurliman told a Board of Aldermen committee on Wednesday night that he is looking into the cost of hiring a contractor specializing in reverse 9-1-1 systems.

Shelton now uses the state’s reverse 9-1-1 system at no cost, but poor communications during the recent snowstorm has led to much criticism and the initiation of the effort to consider other options.

City officials have said two reverse 9-1-1 calls were scheduled to go out on the weekend of the storm, but it appears many residents never received the calls. The inadequacy of information put on various city websites during the major snowstorm also was discussed at the aldermanic Public Health and Safety Committee meeting.

Resident David Gioiello told the committee that more needs to be done to inform residents during emergencies such as the major snowstorm. “We need to have someone here who is responsible for communicating,” he said of municipal operations. Gioiello is Shelton Democratic Town Committee chairman.

Possible annual cost in $15,000-18,000 range

Hurliman said he has reached out to at least four possible vendors, but only received two ballpark estimates to date.

CodeRed, the emergency communications system used by many nearby towns including Monroe and Seymour, could cost from $15,000 to $18,000 a year, the chief said.

If the city were to use the same company as the state, Everbridge, the cost would be $11,500 a year. Hiring Everbridge directly would enable Shelton to use its services when needed, even to send out messages in non-emergencies (for instance, such as saying trash pickups may be delayed due to bad weather).

Now, when using the Everbridge system for free through the state, the city can only send out messages for major emergency situations without paying a fee. “There are limitations of what you can put on it,” the police chief said.

And during emergencies, the city’s message now is placed in a queue with Everbridge and “may not go out right away if it’s behind others,” Hurliman said.

Getting people to sign up for calls

The current system only distributes to land lines of record when it was initially activated, as well as any phone numbers — land or cell — that were added since then.

One aspect of any upgraded system would be to publicize the advantages of people signing up to get the emergency phone messages, especially with their cell phone numbers. There is no cost to people to sign up for the calls. Hurliman said notices with links urging people to sign up could be placed on the various city of Shelton websites.

Aldermen appear supportive of upgrade

Aldermen indicated they supported hiring an outside company if that was the best to go, pointing they had received complaints in the aftermath of the snowstorm.

Alderman John P. Papa, Public Health and Safety Committee chairman, said he had received as many as 30 calls from constituents, and some had never received the reverse 9-1-1 calls.

“I don’t think we have to worry about the budget,” Papa said. “We’ll have the funds...This is something we really need.”

There also was a brief discussion of what department budget such an expense might come out of, with Hurliman pointing out the Police Department is not the only municipal agency that would use the system.

How easy is the system to use?

An important consideration is how easy an outside emergency communications system is to use, according to Hurliman. He said he has heard from officials in other towns that the CodeRed system is easy to use, while he described the Everbridge system as being more complicated.

“I want to look at everyone’s product to see how easy it is to use,” Hurliman said. “When you use it at 3 o’clock in the morning, you don’t want it to be difficult.”

More detailed info coming

The police chief is expected to have a more finalized breakdown of potential vendors and costs soon, and then the city could potentially go out to bid to hire a firm.

Papa said Mayor Mark Lauretti has indicated he wants to attend the aldermanic committee meeting at which a potential vote could take place to hire a reverse 9-1-1 company. In the aftermath of the storm, Lauretti has said the city’s emergency communications were less than adequate and it may be time to turn to an outside contractor.