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Council approves mass notification system

City will be able to send public alerts via phone, email

SOLON– It’s a better system at a bargain rate.
Solon council members approved a new voice and text emergency notification system at a June 19 meeting.
For an annual $1,000 subscription and a $500 startup fee, the city will be able to issue public safety announcements to all land lines as well as enrolled email and cell phone numbers.
According to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, the City of Ely initiated a group membership rate with Nixle for its mass notification system last fall.
“It just wasn’t something I felt budget wise was a good fit for us at the time, but the price has come down as more communities have come together,” she explained.
Council members had the chance to review a 40-minute presentation on the system prior to the meeting.
“It’s an opportunity for us to join with other communities and get a group rate that we otherwise wouldn’t get because we’re joining all together,” Rasmussen said.
Ely and Mount Vernon currently utilize the Nixle platform.
Nixle provides real-time, two-way communication through text, email, voice messages, social media and the Nixle mobile app, according to its website, and the system is used by over 8,000 agencies, fire and police departments, schools and hospitals.
In light of recent natural disasters, Rasmussen said, and with last year’s Alliant outage, the new system made sense.
The city would have the ability to automatically access every phone listed by the white pages, she said, with additional cell phones or email addresses entered by users.
Johnson County has an emergency notification system which the city can utilize, she said, but it’s controlled by the county, and the Nixle platform would provide immediate notification for a variety of alerts.
The city has a similar program operating in conjunction with its website, Rasmussen said, but it hasn’t been well received and doesn’t give the city access to landlines in an emergency.
“And who has the ability to post messages?” asked Mayor Steve Stange.
City staff will be trained to assume the job, Rasmussen said.
Council member Shawn Mercer questioned whether the system would be used only for emergencies.
“That’s its essential purpose,” Rasmussen explained. “It can be used for lesser notifications if we so choose.”
Alerts could range from a lost dog to something major, she said.
The city will have to establish policy and procedure on the range of notices, she added.
“I think if you put too much out, people will not use it,” Stange offered. He suggested it should only be used when a large portion of residents are affected or should be made aware, like a road closure, storm issue or snow emergency.
He said he would oppose using the Nixle system for community events.
Mercer expressed concerned about businesses trying to use the system, but Stange clarified it would be strictly municipal notifications for city residents.
Ely has been using the system since the end of 2018.
According to Mayor Eldy Miller’s October 2018 newsletter, the system was put in place after requests from residents. “It's because of them the city looked into it and presented the information to council,” Miller noted.
Ely’s website indicated residents can sign up for different levels of notification, such as upcoming community events, youth program registrations or utility reminders.
But both Ely and Mount Vernon have mostly limited their use to public advisories and public works notices.
Rasmussen said the city investigated several notification programs over the years before selecting Nixle.
People do have to sign up in order for the city to obtain cell phone numbers and email addresses, she noted.
“But this is a good rate, a great rate and it allows us to have access to a system that on our own we would never be able to afford,” she said.
It’s a good example of communities working together toward sustainability by cost savings, she noted.
The city is not tied to the service for multiple years, she added.
Council members approved a resolution approving the agreement on a 3-0 vote with two absent.