DES MOINES — An Iowa disaster services agency is proposing a statewide system to handle mass emergency notifications, but can’t think of a circumstance when it would “fire off” a statewide alert.
However, the system, which was included in Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget, could expand mass notification and emergency messaging systems from 53 to 99 counties and cut the cost by about a third.
Those 53 counties that provide emergency notifications for tornadoes, flash flooding and law enforcement situations, for example, are spending about $600,000 a year, according to John Benson of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“We feel pretty confident we can provide the statewide system for $400,000,” he told a House Public Safety Subcommittee on Monday. That is based on more than a dozen replies to a request for information from vendors.
While the system could be used to deliver an emergency warning to residents across the state “for the really big ones when you need to reach out and grab everyone,” Benson said he can’t think of an example.
More likely, he said, decisions to alert residents would be made by local law enforcement and emergency management agencies.
“Our goal is to give local folks a tool to use, and local folks would determine how to use it,” he said. However, “We don’t want it to be used to advertise the middle school bake sale.”
The proposal makes a “whole lot of sense,” said Kent Hartwig of the Iowa Emergency Management Association. “It will free up resources and create a statewide network rather than a piecemeal network.”
Most of the subcommittee’s questions dealt with privacy issues. Benson said Iowans could opt-in — that is, choose to receive notifications — via landlines, cellphones, email or social media. If they don’t opt-in, they would not receive the alerts.
Lobbyists for local law enforcement, cities and counties also voiced the concern that once a statewide network is established that the state might lose interest in funding it and their communities would have to foot the bill.
Specifically, they don’t want to see revenue from the 911 surcharge used to fund the system.
The bill now goes to the full House Public Safety Committee.