Chisago Co. contemplating ‘CodeRED’ emergency notification system

By Derrick Knutson—

“CodeRED, CodeRED, CodeRED, there’s a meltdown in Chisago Nuclear Sector 9!”

All right, there’s no nuclear facility in Chisago County, which renders the possibility of a meltdown moot, but residents could soon become familiar with the “CodeRED” moniker.

CodeRED is the new emergency notification system the county is thinking about purchasing this year.

County administrator Bruce Messelt described CodeRED as a “reverse 911.”

It is a high-speed emergency communication service that employs Internet mapping capability for geographic targeting of calls, according to the CodeRED website.

Messelt said the system, already used by 11 Minnesota counties, is becoming the “industry standard” for emergency notification.

He explained CodeRED sends messages to landlines, cell phones and e-mails to warn selected residents about an array of dangerous situations.

“It allows any of our emergency providers to go into a GIS database map and map out an area that is pre-set or could be established as needed, and then (CodeRED) calls anyone within that protocol area with a pre-recorded message or text message,” Messelt said.

Messelt said the system could be an asset to the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments if they had to warn a specific group of people about a dangerous criminal in the area, a string of recent burglaries or other crimes.

“We could send out notifications that garages are being burglarized …,” Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan pointed to as an example. “We can send these messages out to the public to let them know crime is going on.”

Messelt mentioned real time weather warnings are also a component of the system.

“The other nice feature of the system that has evolved recently is an automatic emergency warning system for weather-related incidents – tornados, flash floods and severe thunder storms,” he said.  “Any time the National Weather Service vectors an area for a tornado warning, for instance, automatically anybody who is in that vector gets a call.”

Messelt added, “In the winter, they use e-mails and text messages to alert people of severe winter storms, just because those systems are slower moving.”

He said Washington County recently tested its CodeRED system, and the software was able to generate about 10,000 warning messages a minute.

If the county chooses to move forward with the system, it would cost about $19,000 to get up and running and could be in-use by July, after the county’s new communications center near Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center opens.

For those who don’t want to receive emergency messages from the county via calls or texts, there is an opt-out opportunity, Messelt said.

He noted if a resident does not want to receive weather warnings or more mundane messages, such as communication about impending road projects near the resident’s home, that resident could inform the county and be taken off the list. However, the sheriff could still send that person a message via CodeRED if he deemed the situation to be dire enough.

District 4 County Commissioner Ben Montzka said at the Jan. 18 Chisago County Board meeting he’s in favor of looking at implementing the system.

Messelt said the county would be able to pay for it this year with money it already has in its general fund, and if the CodeRED is deemed a success, the county could search for ways to fund it in the future.

“It seems like it would really work,” Montzka said. “It’s such a nominal price.”

District 3 County Commissioner George McMahon echoed Montzka’s sentiment.

“I think this is an investment in public safety we should make for our community, “ he said. “I think it’s a great tool.”

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