Seeking to save residents from natural disasters and assorted other emergencies, city officials have asked the public to send in their digits, email addresses, Twitter handle and whatever else it can use to reach them.
The data-collection drive is for the launch of Bmore Alert, Baltimore’s new emergency notification system. It relies on Florida-based Onsolve’s CodeRED alert software, which Ex Officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young today said “represents the next step forward for the city in terms of mass alerts and notifications.”
The platform can target specific geographic areas in case of an emergency, sending out alerts via text, call, email and social media. David McMillan, director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, cited the example of a recent train derailment in North Baltimore, after which the city alerted neighbors with the software.
It can also tap into the national Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, or IPAWS, for FEMA alerts.
Young said Baltimore already has a database of landlines for city residents to contact. But since most people don’t bother with those anymore—the acting mayor said about a third of city households still have one—he and McMillan today appealed for residents to send in their info in online.
“Register whatever you can at our website so that we can get these pertinent alerts out to you,” McMillan said.
One could reasonably ask if this is a good idea, particularly given research highlighting vulnerabilities with government alert systems, and cases of them getting hacked and personal data being compromised. There could also be concerns about MOEM sharing that data with other agencies.
But McMillan assured that’s not going to happen. Responding to a reporter asking if contact information would be shared elsewhere in city government, he declined. “All of the information is encrypted, and on top of that, we wouldn’t use it for anything but emergency notifications. So it’s very important for everybody to understand that this is just to get major notifications for emergencies.”
Examples, he said, would include flooding, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters; the city’s website also mentions hazardous chemical releases, outbreaks of infectious disease and evacuations. “It’s really a tool for us to proactively communicate with the public and to get out those alerts.”
If you do sign up, you can expect calls from (866) 419-5000 and (855) 969-4636 in case of an emergency.