March 31, 2014 4:15 pm
Updated: April 1, 2014 7:50 am

Saskatoon launches new mass notification system – NotifyNOW

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Watch above: a new mass notification system aims to keep residents informed during emergencies

SASKATOON – Emergencies can happen at any time, anywhere. With that in mind, a new mass notification system has been launched by the City of Saskatoon to keep citizens informed in the case of an emergency.

NotifyNOW will allow people to receive information via direct text, voice mail and e-mail messages in the event of an emergency situation.

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“It’s a matter of progress. We look at the needs people have during emergencies, no longer can we approach an emergency like we have enough resources for everybody,” said Ray Unrau, director of emergency planning with the City of Saskatoon.

“One of the most important things we can do is notify people and empower them.”

Officials say NotifyNOW can warn tens of thousands of people within seconds of an emergency helping residents ensure their safety.

“People can actually pick which devices they want to use, they can actually pick the addresses they want to put in, so it comes to actual ways that they get message delivered they can customize it as much as they want, so that’s what’s really key here is that’s it’s customizable and personal,” said Unrau.

Used in major cities like Boston during the marathon bombing, officials say the more information they can get out to everyone the better positioned people are to react.

“From an emergency situation, the more that we can get people involved and being proactive in their own safety by messaging, it’s going to enhance everything and on the other side of it from an efficiency side with the City of Saskatoon, our ability to communicate our service levels, so I see lots of strength in two-fold,” said fire Chief Dan Paulsen.

An emergency could include any situation which could require precautionary action. City officials used the 2007 blizzard as a case in point, which shut down the city and left motorists stranded in their vehicles for hours.

“With NotifyNOW, we would have been able to contact many people on their cell phones,” said Paulsen.

“We could have provided them with important safety messages and assured them that crews were working to locate them.”

To set up the contact database, the city purchased the phone numbers listed in the 2013-14 Saskatoon SaskTel phone book. Officials said those will only be used in emergency situations.

By late spring, there will also be an option to receive messages via NotifyNOW for service disruptions such as power outages and water main breaks.

The system also has a “call throttle” option in order to avoid crashing the system as notifications go out.

People not listed in the phone book or those who want to customize how they are notified can sign up on the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) website.

“This move is in line with city council’s strategic goals of continuous improvement and quality of life, making Saskatoon a great place to live,” said Mayor Don Atchison.

To ensure the effectiveness of the system, a city-wide test will be run in May during emergency preparedness week.

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