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South Orange to Install New Alert System That Is 'Faster, Easier to Use'

Alex Torpey, South Orange village president, demonstrates how an emergency notification can be sent from an iPad using the new alert system. Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – A new alert system that will be up and running within the next couple of weeks will allow the village to send phone, email and text emergency notifications faster and more easily, according to village President Alex Torpey.

The software the village has been using “was pretty antiquated and hard to use,” Torpey said. “This (system) gives us a ton of new features.”

About 1,100 residents have signed up under the current system, according to Torpey. He said their information will be automatically uploaded to the new program. When the new software is launched, the village plans to make a push to have more residents sign up. “There should be 10,000 entries in there,” he said.

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Torpey, who also serves as the Office of Emergency Management coordinator for South Orange, said he knew after Hurricane Irene that the village needed to switch. “As we got up to Sandy, everyone was realizing we had to replace this,” he said.

The software, a product of the Everbridge company, significantly speeds up the notification process, Torpey said. With the old system, “it took 15 to 20 minutes to get one emergency notice out,” he said.

In addition to a reverse 9-1-1 function, which sends a message to all residents, the software allows for targeted notifications to defined geographic locations, he said. He said this function could be used in the case of a water main break or for power outages that affect only a section of the village.

Because of the new system’s flexibility, Torpey said, village officials can send alerts when they are on the scene during an emergency, using a mobile device. “I like being out there with the fire department, police and public works … trying to get a good sense on the ground of what is happening,” he said. “Now, I don’t have to go back to village hall (to send notifications).”

The system can also gather information during emergencies, Torpey said. For example, during a power outage, the village can program an option such as: “Press 1 if your power is out.” He said the responses can be mapped and that information shared with Public Service Electric & Gas.

Another benefit will be the ability of department heads to use the system to recall employees, Torpey said. “Right now, they call each employee,” he said.

Non-emergency alerts also can be sent. For example, users will be able to sign up for information about recreational activities, such as cancellations and field closures. In addition, the village can use the system to distribute information such as an electronic version of the Gaslight newsletter. “You will have the option of checking off what alerts you want,” Torpey said.

The new alert system will be integrated with a 3-1-1 system for residents to report non-emergency problems and with the village’s new website, which should be live by the end of the summer, Torpey said.

The village’s contract with Everbridge is around $8,000 a year, Torpey said, “a little bit less than what we were paying before.” He said officials researched a number of different providers before selecting Everbridge. Because the contract was for less than $17,500, the village didn’t need to go through a bid process. Torpey said that with something this specialized, it is quicker, easier and less expensive to simply identify the companies providing the services and products and ask for quotes.

According to the Everbridge company website, the emergency notification system is used in more than 100 countries and customers include the American Red Cross and Virginia Tech University.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story said the cost was around $12,000 a year. After checking, Torpey corrected the amount to $8,000.

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