The CodeRED Emergency Communications system is proving to be beneficial.

On the morning of Dec. 1 telephones in Hannibal rang. Those answering the call heard a message asking them to be on the lookout for an autistic child that had gone missing. A short time later another phone call was received advising that the teen-ager had been found safe and sound.

Lt. Kathy Davis, patrol operations commander with the Hannibal Police Department, says that was just one example of how the CodeRED Emergency Communications system can be beneficial.

“It gives law enforcement the benefit of having the ‘eyes and ears’ of the public to assist in locating a missing person. In law enforcement it is essential to have the cooperation of the public not only to solve crimes but also to assist in situations such as a missing person. Essentially it becomes a community effort. Public ‘tips’ are very important,” she said.

“CodeRED is also great for its ability to notify the public of impending weather changes and could be used for flooding, tornados and any other severe weather,” added Davis. “Notification can be made much faster than law enforcement can contact residents personally and sometimes quicker than local media can make notifications on broadcasts due to loss of power due to storms.”

On the evening of May 20, when a powerful thunderstorm roared through Hannibal, Pam and Aaron Lightle both credited the system with alerting them to the severe storm that was approaching.

But not everyone received the weather advisory via their phone that night. Even people with land lines must sign up to receive weather alerts, explained John Hark, emergency management director for both Hannibal and Marion County.

“That’s where we’ve had a bit of confusion,” he said. “We have your phone number if it’s a land line and we can call you with boil orders, but as far as getting severe weather you still have to go in and sign up with that land line to get the severe weather warnings. That’s been a tough one (message) to get out to people.”

Winter weather

“The weather alerts include winter weather advisories,” added Mike Hall, director of Marion County 911. “We don’t think of severe weather in December, but even last month there were deadly tornadoes in the Midwest. It can happen any time.”

Hark says it’s anybody’s guess as to how many phones are signed up for CodeRED, but whatever the count is, Hark’s not satisfied.

“I’ll never be satisfied until we have every home in Marion County and every cell phone in Marion County signed up and in the system, and I know we don’t have that,” he said. “I want them to sign up. We’ve got the service and it’s free to them. It’s another warning system. You just can’t get too many warnings of pending danger. I encourage people to sign up.”

The service, which is available to all residents of Marion County and Ralls County residents who reside in southern Hannibal. People can sign up for the service at the websites of Marion County 911, the city of Hannibal and Marion County Emergency Management.

While all land lines were included in the system’s data base when it went on line over a year-and-a-half ago, cell phone numbers must be registered. Hall advises that some cell phone users may have to re-register.

“If they changed their cell phone number when they changed providers, they won’t get the messages,” he said.

Signing up for the service doesn’t mean a phone will be ringing constantly.

“The really neat feature about this is we can pinpoint phone calls to a very concise geographic area, so we don’t have to tell the entire town, all 18,000 residents, of a road closure that would effect a little portion of town. We can pinpoint a two or three block area if we want to,” said Hall. “The goal is to notify people that need the information and not bother folks that are not impacted by a situation.”

While the service is available to an assortment of local agencies, it may not yet be utilized to its full potential.

“I think it’s still so new that not everyone has fully embraced the benefit of using the system. We don’t want to overdo messages. It’s primarily an emergency notification system,” said Hall. “The Board of Public Works in Palmyra has been using it to notify residents when they do sewer system maintenance. In Hannibal, we really haven’t gotten into it on the public works side, but I suspect as people get more aware of the system they may start seeing more of those types of messages, too.”