University City

Charlotte, county start new alert system

Charlotte and Mecklenburg residents can now receive emergency alerts via text message, email or social media, following the Dec.4 launch of the CharMeck Alerts notification system.

The city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the six townships are working together to ensure residents receive real-time alerts about emergencies that could affect their home or workplace, as well as the areas where their children go to school or day care, officials said.

Unlike previous emergency notification systems – which typically used reverse-911 calls that often went to landlines – CharMeck Alerts sends up-to-the-minute notifications to a user’s home, work or cellphone by text message, email or through social media, according to officials.

Capt. Mark Basknight, a spokesman for the Charlotte Fire Department, said officials have been studying new response and notification systems for nearly a year.

CharMeck Alerts is the same system used to notify the public during the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, officials said.

Users decide what type of alerts to receive – emergency and nonemergency, among others – for as many as five locations or for all of Mecklenburg County. Those with special needs or disabilities can also select options such as transportation assistance in the event of an emergency in their area.

Severe weather, police or fire emergencies, missing persons and hazardous-material situations were a few examples officials provided for the types of emergency alerts users can opt to receive. Local governments can use the system to get important information to employees or alert residents about nonemergencies, including traffic events and road closures.

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said CharMeck Alerts will be invaluable.

“A safe community is an informed community,” he said, noting the registration process is fast, easy and user-friendly.

In the future, the city of Charlotte plans to explore using the system to share department-specific news and events.

Bobby Williams, Huntersville management assistant, was one of the city and county officials who attended the Dec.4 kickoff. CharMeck Alerts will be especially beneficial for Huntersville and the Lake Norman area, where neighborhoods straddle jurisdictional lines and many residents commute to other parts of the county for work, Williams said.

“We envision sending traffic alerts, (notifications of) events that might affect a neighborhood,” Williams said. “ElectriCities could notify customers about power outages. We’ll really see what tools benefit people most and what they connect with.”

Davidson Mayor John Woods also attended the Dec.4 launch and said CharMeck Alerts will be “a great improvement to the communication system.”

“When incidents need to be reported, city and county lines mean nothing,” Woods said.

Davidson has used a phone system for alerts for about two years, and CharMeck Alerts is welcome, he said. “It’s a very handy way to communicate, which is our greatest challenge these days. The challenge will be getting people to sign up.”

As part of the community outreach campaign, officials made three public service announcements that help explain how CharMeck Alerts work and will spend a number of Saturdays providing information at locations across the county.

Interim Mecklenburg County Manager Bobbie Shields said he’s excited about numerous aspects of the system but three in particular. “I don’t have to be concerned about unwanted calls or text,” he said, explaining that users control what notifications to receive.

“The information provided will be secure,” Shields said, adding that personal information won’t be shared, and the system will be maintained by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office.

Shields said the option for special-needs individuals and those for disabilities to alert emergency services of the type of help they would need in an emergency is truly valuable.

“As I get older, I’m very interested in the ability to notify people about my location,” he said.