By Marcy Stamper

There’s no emergency right now, but that makes it a propitious time to sign up for notifications through Okanogan County’s emergency-alert system.

The automated system provides customized notifications of fires, mudslides and evacuations by phone, cell phone, text message or email.

When signing up for the Okanogan County Alert System, people can request notifications for up to five locations. For example, someone might request alerts for a home address, work, and addresses of parents, children or friends.

Even if you’ve already registered, Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall reminds people to sign in make sure their information is accurate and urges others to register. There are ways to retrieve a username or password if people have forgotten them.

People need to think of the system as per-person, not by household, said Goodall. Everyone with his or her own phone should register, because people can be in different places when an emergency arises, he said.

When people sign up for alerts, they prioritize up to 10 methods of notification, such as home phone, cell phone, text and email. Goodall recommends putting a text message before a cell phone because the system will always send a text, but will not leave a message on a cell phone. It will leave a message on a home answering machine.

If people do not have a cell phone, a regular phone or e-mail, they can enter contact information for a friend or neighbor — any available way they will be have to receive an alert.

The system cycles back to the top of the list three times to reach a person. People are asked to respond so the system knows the message has been received, which cancels the efforts to reach that individual, said Goodall.

When signing up, people should not put a spouse’s or child’s phone as a secondary number — that person should have his or her own account, said Goodall. People also should not enter a phone number more than once. Because the system cycles through each means of notification, it could mean someone would get 15 calls at the same phone. The only exception is to enter a cell phone twice — once for text messages and once for calls.

The system allows people to select the types of alerts they want to receive (including fire alerts, power outages and traffic), and to provide time frames when they don’t want to be disturbed with less-urgent warnings such as for weather alerts.

Warnings about genuine emergencies — such as to evacuate immediately — will come through regardless of the time of day, said Goodall.

New map function

The alert system has been refined since it was introduced two years ago. There is now a feature that enables people to see the location they have entered on a map and to move the icon if necessary. For example, an address for someone with a long driveway might situate their house right on the road. People need to enter their physical address, not a post-office box.

The map feature will also allow dispatchers to assist people who want to know if they are included in an evacuation zone, said Goodall.

The Emergency Management homepage also now has an interactive map that is updated with information about road closures, evacuations and other important notices. People can click on icons for details and can customize the map to show road names, a satellite view or other features.

If someone already has an account with the emergency-alert system and can’t access it or has questions, the individual should call Goodall rather than create a new account.

The link to sign up for the free emergency alerts is at okanogandem.org. Anyone with questions should call Goodall at (509) 422-7207.