Written by Pat Grace Friday, 26 March 2010 00:00
The surprising directive from Peter Forman, chairman, Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management (PWMOEM), at the March 12 meeting to launch North Shore Alert, was to leave your cell phones on.
North Shore Alert, a mass notification system, differs from other notification systems in that it shifts responsibility for maintaining contact information to residents who know that data best. According to Forman, one of the biggest challenges and expenses in communicating with the community is “getting and maintaining the often changing landline, cell numbers, and email addresses that residents and businesses have.” An added feature is that individuals can include as many contact numbers as necessary—work, summer house, children, cell phone, email, etc. Notifications of civil importance and of emergency preparedness can be provided by phone, text, email and TTY for the hard of hearing. The platform used by PWMOEM’s NorthShoreAlert is Blackboard Connect, capable of sending thousands of messages in minutes.
To demonstrate the efficacy and immediacy of the system, Forman performed a test announcement on his cell phone causing phones already registered with the system to jingle throughout the room. Residents are urged to go immediately to northshorealert.org and enter their contact numbers.
The PWMOEM is comprised of eight villages —Sands Point, Port Washington North, Baxter Estates, Manorhaven, Plandome, Plandome Manor, Plandome Heights, and Munsey Park. It includes the town of North Hempstead, representing the unincorporated areas of both towns, Sands Point Police Department, Port Washington Police District, Port Washington Fire District, Nassau County Police Department-6th Precinct, Port Washington Garbage District and the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District. It also includes hospitals, school districts, and other special districts. Each entity has its own access to the system.
Commissioner Forman noted the alert system covers an area north of Northern Boulevard to the tip of Sands Point, an area encompassing approximately 38,000 residents. Prior to North Shore Alert, most of the participating organizations had the capability to contact only their own residents.
The mapping feature of the system will allow each participating district to target specific areas within their operating region. For example, Forman explained how officials could send a message to all homes and businesses within a quarter mile radius around a specific point on a map, an area that might span several villages, to alert people to be on the lookout for a missing child wearing a red shirt and white shorts.
Sands Point Building Commissioner and OEM trustee Marc Silbert provided background on the formation of the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management, noting that no districts or special districts line up neatly, but overlap, often in multiple ways, and the new system being launched enables individuals to register the pertinent information in one place. When Silbert introduced Commissioner Forman the commissioner took a moment to recognize some local politicians who supported the launch of North Shore Alert: Senator Craig Johnson; Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel; Legislator Wayne Wink; Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman; and Legislator Judi Bosworth. He thanked Janet Wholers, Office of Emergency Management, Town of North Hempstead and mentioned Arlene Case, although not an elected official, and recognized her for her assistance and many years in disaster relief. Forman also recognized village representatives from Manhasset: Mayor Lloyd Williams, Tim Rice and Don Richardson from Plandome; Mayor Barbara Donno, Plandome Manor; Mayor Diana Merenda, Alvin Solomon, deputy mayor, Plandome Heights; and Mayor Harry Nicolaides and Paul Becker, Munsey Park.
The commissioner thanked the Port Washington and Nassau County Police, Plandome Police and the Port Washington and Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Departments. Forman said it is very special to bring together all of these disparate entities in an otherwise fragmented political landscape and that the leadership of all the different groups were to be commended for their cooperation.
As each politician spoke briefly, all, like Senator Johnson, extended hearty congratulations to Commissioner Peter Forman for having had a vision and implementing it so successfully.
Assemblywoman Schimel agreed that local government in the North Shore Alert area cooperates very well. When in Albany, she said, she looks for best practices and noted the premier function of government is safety. She added the cooperation of all in this effort is a model for the state.
Legislator Wayne Wink said it is easy to retreat within our own borders, and that could be dangerous. The PWMOEM is a step in the right direction of activity and interactivity.
Jon Kaiman congratulated Peter Forman for stepping up and bringing cohesiveness to the multiple, often overlapping, forms of government. There is a major need to communicate, Kaiman said, and while we have 311, in emergency notification there is a need for redundancy, in ways that make sense and in responsible ways. He cited a need to work together within different jurisdictions with the same goals. Municipal governments depend on police and fire departments, he said, and we need to know they communicate effectively. The town’s 311 system logs incoming calls and is capable of making reverse calls, Kaiman noted, and in government it is OK to get information twice. The town is happy to participate, to discover ways to use new technology, he said, adding, “people demand that we consolidate our ideas. We always look for ways to make government work better.”
Following the meeting Don Richardson, emergency manager in Plandome, said the system is marvelous. He said it echoes the earlier effort of the 5 Villages in Manhasset and it expands the services ever so much more completely. Four of the five villages have now joined the larger group, PWMOEM, he said. (Flower Hill has not yet joined.)
Plandome Manor Mayor Barbara Donno said she has been involved since the beginning, that it is an amazing system. “We have now pulled in most of the villages on the Peninsula and with all of them being part of the emergency management the villages are ready to deal with hazards. It is an invaluable tool for all residents.” In the past, Donno explained, the village clerk could notify, by email, residents regarding board meetings or agendas. With the mapping capability of the NorthShore Alert system, she said, a targeted number of homes could be notified of a water main break or a road closure.
Plandome Heights Deputy Mayor Alvin Solomon said he has worked on the system almost a year. Should there be a hazardous materials situation on Plandome Road, he said, with North Shore Alert you can map out the endangered areas and notify them through multiple contact numbers, to close their windows, to get the children and the dog inside.
Be notified of, and therefore prepared for, an emergency by registering and updating your multiple contact numbers at northshorealert.org