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L.A. County launches emergency notification system

Los Angeles County is launching a new emergency notification system today. Alert LA County, similar to reverse 911 systems in some Southland cities, will automatically call residents and businesses in areas facing an emergency, such as a natural disaster or evacuation.

The county already has a television and radio emergency notification system, but the new system is expected to be quicker and more targeted. It includes 7.1 million listed and unlisted land-line phone numbers gathered from local telephone companies, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

“It’s geared to give you that info before broadcast news gets to you or you have a marked unit coming down your street,” said John Fernandes, the county’s emergency management director. If the number is busy or does not answer, the system will redial. If it reaches an answering machine, the system leaves a message.

As of Friday, county residents and business owners can add their cellphone, voice over IP, fax numbers and e-mail addresses to the system via a county Web page. “We have to ensure that we have state-of-the-art technology to give as much notice as soon as we can,” Fernandes said.

Only one land-line telephone number or e-mail address may be entered for a given street address. County staff will refresh land-line numbers on a monthly basis and add numbers entered on the website on a nightly basis, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

 The system will cost Los Angeles County $1.9 million for the next five years, Fernandes said. The city of Los Angeles already has an emergency notification system  for residents living in fire-prone red-flag areas, but city officials will be able to access the countywide system too.

Alert LA County will be particularly helpful during wildfires that cross city lines, said Anna Burton, assistant general manager of the city’s emergency management department. “If we need to notify two or three areas as we saw with the Marek and Sayre fires, it will help us make notifications more efficient and faster,” Burton said.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske, from the L.A. County Hall of Administration

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