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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reverse 911 call barely intelligible?

A reader way out in northeast Portland wrote us this morning with a somewhat alarming story:

When I woke up at 6 am this morning, the news was talking about a robbery at 109 & Halsey and that the area was shut down for police activity. We live in that area. The helicopters have been up since about 7 am, circling like little news vultures. However, it wasn't until 7:45 that we got a reverse 911 call warning us to stay indoors. (It was a computer voice, mispronouncing every third word and telling us to call "nine hundred eleven" if we saw anything suspicious. I think that a non-native English speaker would have a difficult time understanding the message.)

Ironically, less than a month ago there was another robbery on Halsey and the police spent most of the day searching our neighborhood for the suspects. Despite the fact the the SERT team spent a couple of hours staked out around the house directly across the street from us, we never got a reverse 911 call. Apparently somebody decided that our street was the outer boundary beyond which the suspect would not cross, so no call.

Reverse 911 is a potentially good idea, but it has lousy implementation.

Comments (4)

Here in Salem they have a human record a message that get sent out.

Sorry Michael, that's not green enough for Portland

Not sure what Portland uses for their reverse 911 platform. In a northern Washington County, we use MyState for emergency management and a number of school districts, government agencies, and large companies have their own.

The software we use offers the opportunity to do text to speech or a recorded voice file. We've used both, and had problems with neither. It does take a few moments of patience to do the preview and some cleverness to get the computer to pronounce properly, but our typical turnaround time is less than 4 minutes.

As far as reverse 911 goes, our protocols do not allow for an activation for a manhunt, or other tactical situation. Likewise with Amber Alerts. The officers on the ground will communicate much more effectively with locals about imminent danger than I could from a windowless room. (Long way of saying that I am not sure why Portland would activate for such an incident)

Our use is primarily warnings affecting life safety. And it does work, even with the computer voice. Tied to that, we can send texts, emails, mobile phone SMS, and even activate the EAS if we need to.

Properly trained and used, such systems are lifesavers.

And yes, when I form the boundaries of the area to be called, it's highly likely that someone on one side of a road may get the call while the other side does note. I build in extra area to my notifications just to make sure I am generous in my warnings.

Sorry for your experience, but I would make contact with E911, Bureau of Police, and Portland Emergency Management to state your concerns. As a citizen, your feedback is needed and believe it or not, desired.

Perhaps he received the Klingon outbound message?

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