New countywide alert system to debut May 1

Officials in Fort Dodge and Webster County are preparing for the launch of a new emergency alert system that will send messages to those who sign up for it.

Webster County Alerts, which uses software from the Wireless Emergency Notification System, will make its debut in Webster County on May 1.

According to Kevin Doty, assistant Fort Dodge police chief, anyone in the county can sign up to receive the notifications.

“It will do voice, text and email alerts,” Doty said. “You can go to the Webster County website and there’s a link there for people to sign up.”

Those who want to receive alerts will need to provide their name, address, cell phone number and what notifications they want to receive.

The new system replaces Code Red, which Webster County used to notify community members of weather alerts for about five years.

“The advantage is that WENS is easier on our side in terms of getting the message out,” Doty said. “It’s more user-friendly.”

Another advantage to Webster County Alerts is that county officials don’t have to record a message and have it sent out. Now a computer will read text that is typed into the computers from the Webster County dispatchers.

Sheriff Jim Stubbs said county and city officials are encouraging people to sign up with their cell phone numbers.

“Most people have cell phones today,” Stubbs said. “With this system, we can get the message out by text.”

Police Chief Tim Carmody said one advantage of Webster County Alerts is that messages can be sent out specifically to people in the impacted areas.

“Let’s say, for example, that something happens in the downtown area,” he said. “We’re able to send a message to that group of people.”

Webster County Alerts doesn’t only send out notifications about weather emergencies. Carmody said if a snow emergency goes into effect or if school is canceled messages can be sent out to members of the affected groups.

“We’re able to communicate within a specific group and put out an announcement to only those in the group,” he said.

Because the system doesn’t officially go active until May 1, no one who signs up will get a notification until then, Doty said, but they will get a text message on their cell phones confirming that they have signed up.

Anyone who had a cell phone number registered with Code Red will have to re-register for Webster County Alerts.

“Landlines are already in the system,” Doty said. “If they want to be removed, they can go to the county home page and click unsubscribe.”

Officials want to get as many people as possible signed up for Webster County Alerts before the new system launches, Carmody said.

“We now have a lot of new options,” he said. “This will allow the system to be more robust than Code Red.”