Cass County uses technology to alert residents.
Until late 2011, Cass County had a problem informing its residents of vital information in a timely fashion.
In cases of severe weather, scam alerts and other time-sensitive issues, the county had no reliable way to contact large numbers of people immediately.
“We really don’t have a good mechanism in the county to get emergency information out quickly. We only have one paper that services the southern part of the county daily, otherwise they are weekly. Radios are so sparsely populated, so we looked at some type of notification system,” said Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch. “What really made us take a hard look at it was when we were having level three sex offenders moving into our communities. It was really difficult because generally the notices we got seemed to be the day after the paper came out. So we would have a meeting before the paper came out again.”
The solution came in a service called Nixle. Nixle is a service available to public safety agencies like the Cass County Sheriff’s Department. With it, the department has the power to instantly alert subscribed residents of vital information.
“If we were in an area for severe thunderstorms for the next eight or 10 hours, we probably wouldn’t send that out over Nixle, but if we were notified that 20 miles from Pine River there is a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds and hail we would alert you. We would send it out over Nixle,” Burch said. “There is really no clear-cut procedure or policy as to when we alert. Each unique event creates its own criteria over whether we elect to use Nixle. If we choose to do it, we can send the message and it gets received by the people signed up within seconds.”
Burch said sex offender release meetings were a large motivation for enrolling with Nixle, but it is also useful for alerting Cass County residents of scams such as the recent text message Verizon or bank scams. The alerts are controlled by the county dispatch center or through the emergency management system, so the county can send out alerts for anything deemed important.
Burch said Nixle can even pinpoint alert areas.
“One unique thing with the system is we can notify the entire county, or we can bring it down within a block radius. If we know an exact area that we need to alert, we could alert just that address area,” Burch said.
Burch said around 1,000 Cass County residents have subscribed to receive text or email alerts from Nixle. The service does not cost subscribers anything extra beyond standard text message charges, and aside from a monthly test of the system, Nixle is only used for important alerts.
To subscribe to Nixle alerts you must have an address from the county you are registering for. Burch recommended subscribing to Nixle if you live in Cass County. He also recommended buying a NOAA weather radio and monitoring the Cass County Sheriff Department’s website and Facebook page.
Those living outside of Cass County should contact their local sheriff’s department to see if they subscribe to an emergency alert service. Some counties do, some do not, and there are more alert services than Nixle so they do not all offer the same services. Crow Wing County does have a system called Group Cast, though the county does not use it in the same way that Cass County uses Nixle.