Wakeup calls


You know those robo-calls? The ones that encourage you to sign up for a new credit card or speak with grave concern about the record of an area politician?

What if they could be used for good? That was the thinking behind the $66,000 department of Homeland Security Grant given to Spokane County. As of January 1, the county implemented a system through Twenty First Century Communications, in Columbus, Ohio. If there, say, is a tornado ready to rip through Hillyard or a volcano erupting up from the ground in Latah Creek, the county can send an AlertSpokane message to warn the citizenry.

“The dispatch commander draws a polygon or circle on a GIS map,” Lorlee Mizell, director of 911 communications, says. “Then it calls the phone numbers within that map.”

Already, it’s been used once this year, to warn the Northwood neighborhood after a murderer barricaded himself in his home nearby.

But the system only automatically has the numbers for landlines. Yes, those relics from the days of rotary dialers and phone books. Now, the county is campaigning for citizens to sign up for the service using their e-mail address, their cell phone number, or their Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) digital voice number.

Sign up at www.alertspokane.org. There’s still no support for Skype, instant messaging, text messaging, for now.