Almost two months after it debuted, the Wireless Emergency Notification System has proved to be a valuable tool when it comes to alerting Webster County to different emergencies.
WENS, an online system that allows people to sign up for text or phone alerts for severe weather emergencies, has been active in Webster County since May 1, when it replaced Code Red.
Tony Jorgensen, Webster County Emergency Management coordinator, said WENS has many advantages over Code Red.
“It’s much more cost-effective and has many more capabilities,” Jorgensen said. “It’s also much more user-friendly.”
One advantage that WENS has over Code Red is its ability to alert people only in a specific area.
“When the sirens go off, those are countywide,” Jorgensen said. “Tornado warnings cover a wide area, even if some people in that area may not be in immediate danger.”
With WENS, Jorgensen said only people who are in the impacted area will receive an alert that severe weather is coming towards them.
Another advantage is that people who sign up can choose what alerts they want to receive. These include tornado and thunderstorm watches and warnings, as well as notifications on flooding, blizzards, freeze watches, extreme heat and cold, and law enforcement alerts.
Anyone who wants to sign up needs to provide a first and last name. Optional fields include a phone number and an email address.
There is no cost to sign up for WENS.
“It’s a service that the county provides for free,” Jorgensen said. “And because it’s geocached to certain areas, we can define exactly who gets the alerts and who doesn’t.”
While the service itself is free, Jorgensen said the county has no control over fees that might be charged by cell phone companies.
There are three ways people can receive alerts, according to Jorgensen. One is by email, while the other two come in via phone. Those who sign up can choose between texting and voice mail.
Jorgensen said officials would rather everyone sign up for texting, if possible.
“We have unlimited texting, so there’s no cost to the county if everybody signs up for text,” he said. “For voice mail, we’re limited to the number of calls we can make before the county starts getting charged.”
At the same time, he said he understands that not everybody in the county has access to text messaging, which is why the voice mail option is provided as well.
While most people can sign up online, Jorgensen said there are also a good number of people who may want to utilize WENS that don’t have internet access. As a result, he is planning a day where those without Internet can call in and receive help in signing up for WENS.
“Because we have a population who don’t have access to the Internet, we’re going to be having volunteers available for one day to help people register,” he said.
The volunteers will be available on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Anyone without internet access who wants to sign up is asked to call 227-2600 and volunteers will help with the process.
“Those volunteers will only be there for one day, so we want to reach as many people as we can and get them signed up,” Jorgensen said.
As WENS approaches its second month of use, Jorgensen said the tool has proven its worth.
“It has been utilized and it does work,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people happy with it. I know I sure am.”