Thursday will mark the first full-fledged, county-wide test of the phone-based alert system that the cities of Hannibal and Palmyra, plus Marion County, teamed to buy last year.
The CodeRED Emergency Communications Network will be activated at 11 a.m. in conjunction with Hannibal’s testing of its outdoor warning system.
“We’re going to be ringing people’s phones, sounding sirens, sending out text messages and e-mails,” said John Hark, emergency management director for Hannibal and Marion County. “This is our first ‘all call’ of the CodeRED. This will show us how many calls we can get out, and how long it’s going to take to do a county-wide call.”
While the sirens will sound for only a short period of time, Hark expects the phone alert system test to take longer.
“The CodeRED (test) will continue on for probably another 30 minutes by the time we get all the calls out,” said Hark.
While it shouldn’t take half an hour to make all the calls, there’s no basis for an accurate estimation.
“We don’t know. We’ve never set it all off,” said Hark. “We know we can only put out so many at a time.”
For the first full county-wide test, Hark will be working directly with CodeRED personnel.
“They will be monitoring so we don’t blow up a telephone company somewhere,” he said.
The system, which utilizes telephones to deliver advisory messages, became operational last July. Since then it has received a couple of tests. Shortly after it went into service it was used to notify people in the Palmyra area of a missing child. That’s when it became apparent that all the alerts can’t be issued at once.
“When we put it out we tried putting out some 1,900 calls the first minute and we overloaded the phone system in Palmyra. We had to back it down and put out somewhere between 100 and 700 calls a minute,” said Hark.
Last fall, CodeRED was used to notify people in the path of a severe thunderstorm.
“It (warning area) covered a small portion of the Palmyra area, a small portion of the area between Hannibal and Palmyra, and a small portion of Hannibal. Whoever is in the polygon when they put the warning out, that’s who gets the call,” said Hark. “If there was a tornado warning for Philadelphia, Mo., nobody in Palmyra, or Hannibal, or the rest of the county would get the call.
People with land lines can expect a call, along with those folks with cell phones who have signed up for the notifications.
Page 2 of 2 - “I hope everything goes real well. As with anything, you can always have glitches,” said Hark. “What we’re doing now is testing to get rid of the glitches so if we need it for the real thing, we’ve got it.”
A bid of $21,945 for the CodeRED system was accepted in April by the Hannibal City Council, Palmyra City Council and Marion County Commission. The cost was split between the three entities. Hannibal’s share was $13,386.
It’s unclear if all the entities that kicked in money last year for the system will do so again.
“The county of Marion is already on board. They have agreed to go with this system again next year,” said Hark. “We’re talking to the city of Palmyra and Hannibal for them to budget it. We’re going to provide the same system this next year, we hope.”