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Swain County to implement reverse 911 system

Swain County to implement reverse 911 system

When the wildfires were threatening structures in Swain County a couple of weeks ago, first responders had to knock on more than 200 doors to alert residents that they needed to evacuate. 

While David Breedlove, Swain County’s emergency management director, said door-to-door is definitely the most effective way to notify people, it’s not always the quickest or safest way when there is an emergency. That’s why he approached the Swain County Commissioners again about installing a reverse 911 system in the county.

“We haven’t had it in the past — it’s always lost out at the end of the budget year — but we need it,” Breedlove said. 

Understanding the serious danger presented during the recent wildfires in the Nantahala National Forest, the commissioners unanimously approved Breedlove’s request. 

Many other counties in the region utilize the reverse 911 system to notify residence of a fire, tornado, flood, etc. Breedlove said the county would pay about $5,500 a year to subscribe to a service that will alert people with a robo-call through their home phones or their cell phones. The service can also send text alerts to a cell phone and post alerts on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. 

The only catch is residents have to actively sign up to receive the alerts. When the system is set up and ready to go, Breedlove said he would put a link on the county’s website — — for residents to submit their information to sign up for the alerts. 

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The reverse 911 won’t solve all the problems though. 

“If communications are down, the reverse 911 won’t work,” he said, which is what happened in Gatlinburg when many residents weren’t aware of the need to evacuate. 

That’s when the county would need to tag on the Federal Communication Commission’s emergency alert system. It will notify people who aren’t signed up for the reverse 911 alerts as well as tourists driving through the area. 

“If you’re a tourist driving through a serious situation, we can use the FCC system and it will ping off the cellphone towers nearby to alert people’s phones,” Breedlove said. 

Having the reverse 911 system installed before the rough winter weather settles in will be beneficial for Swain County. 

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