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Hawaii News

Service sends text, e-mail disaster alerts

Gordon Y.K. Pang
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TO SIGN UP: Oahu residents can sign up at www.nixle.com to get alerts through e-mail, text messages or both. Residents can also sign up by texting their ZIP codes to 888777.

A new service co-sponsored by the city allows Oahu residents to receive emergency disaster warnings and alerts via text messaging or e-mail.

City officials said they hope to be able to reach as many people as possible with the new system whenever there is a tsunami, earthquake, hurricane or other natural or even man-made disaster.

Most people learn about disaster emergencies today from the city Department of Emergency Management through either Civil Defense sirens, their televisions or radios. But the proliferation of iPhones and other smart phones means more and more people now have mobile access to e-mail and text messaging, acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell said yesterday.

"That’s one more tool to empower the public … so that they can get information even more quickly," he said.

Oahu residents can sign up at www.nixle.com and have the option of getting alerts through e-mail, text messages or both.

There is no cost to the city or the public, although standard text-messaging rates might apply depending on a cell phone user’s rate plan.

The program is a partnership between the city and New Jersey-based Nixle Community Information Service, which has a contract with the National Weather Service to provide the service to municipalities across the country.

City officials can send out alerts either islandwide or to a specific area. So if a flash flood moves through one neighborhood, only those living in that neighborhood would get that alert. Mel Kaku, city director of emergency services, said messages can be sent to people within a quarter-mile radius.

Information collected by the service will be kept confidential, and only a handful of people will have access to sensitive data, Kaku said.

The Honolulu Police Department, Board of Water Supply and Department of Transportation Services are also looking at using the system, he said.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has had for the last several years a similar commercial mass notification system available to the roughly 24,000 students, faculty and staff on its campus through e-mail and, if they choose, text messages, said UH-Manoa spokesman Gregg Takayama.

One-year pilot projects are also being tried in Kauai and Hawaii counties, city officials said.


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