QAC Launches Telephone Program to Notify Residents During Emergencies

A Homeland Security grant is enabling Queen Anne’s County to try out a new emergency notification system that can alert residents via house phones, cell phones, texts, and emails. Telephones listed with directory assistance will receive the calls; however, residents are encouraged to add their cell phone numbers to get calls or texts notifying them of emergencies.

Queen Anne’s County Office of the Sheriff and Emergency Services are using the Blackboard Connect mass notification platform to enhancing communication and emergency preparedness.

“Maintaining a safe environment for our residents is our top priority,” said Kevin Aftung, Director of Emergency Services. “We recognize the important role that quick communication plays on safety and are proud to now have a system that will enable us to communicate with residents in just a matter of minutes, helping to save valuable time and resources.”

The county implemented the Blackboard Connect platform so that officials can directly notify, update and provide direction to the community in an efficient, timely manner, should a need arise. Using the Blackboard Connect, community leaders can record, send and track personalized voice messages to thousands of residents, businesses, and local agencies in just minutes, through a single phone call. The city can also send text messages to mobile phones, e-mail accounts, and TTY/TDD receiving devices for the hearing impaired.

“In addition to using the Blackboard Connect service to send messages in urgent situations, such as a severe storm or public health and safety matter, we can use the platform to keep residents informed of other important matters within our community, such as emergency road closures and special events,” said Gary Hofmann, Sheriff. “I strongly urge residents to register their contact information into the system’s secure database to make sure they are prepared to receive important information at any given time.”

Queen Anne’s County administrators can target each message to an unlimited number of groups – everything from mobilizing volunteers to coordinating efforts with necessary agencies or emergency personnel. Authorized users can also use a map on the Blackboard Connect system to contact specific geographical locations, sending messages only to the residents within select neighborhoods when needed.

The system has many non-emergency uses well. Users can sign up for notifications from the county’s departments of Aging, Animal Services, Parks and Recreation, the Sanitary District, Sheriff’s Office, Housing And Community Services, the Health Department and Centreville Town Police. Users may sign up for notifications from all or some of the above departments.

Residential and business phones listed in the phone book will automatically be included in the system. However, to ensure that officials have the most up-to-date contact information, residents should visit Queen Anne’s County website and click on the link that says “SIGN UP NOW – SERVICES BY BLACKBOARD CONNECT,” to provide their complete information (up to three phone numbers including cell phones and two e-mail addresses) and indicate if they have a TTY/TDD. Those without Internet access are encouraged to use the computers at the local library to provide their up-to-date contact information.

“The six-month trial period was paid for in full by the grant, and required no out of pocket costs from Queen Anne’s county,” said Aftung. “After July, if the County Commissioners and the citizens of the county find the program useful, it will require an annual subscription fee by the county.”