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March 23, 2014

State wants more N.H. towns to use emergency alerts

Just 25 percent of Granite State towns use free emergency alert system

New Hampshire has offered free emergency alert service to all cities and towns since 2013. But only 25 percent of municipalities are taking advantage of it.

The New Hampshire Bureau of Emergency Communications is making a push to increase those numbers.

“We’ve contacted each community multiple times in the last year to let them know that this is available,” said Timothy Scott, data services manager with the state’s Department of Emergency Communications. “There’s no downside to signing up for this.”

The system provides the capability to send emergency messages to any phone number in a town’s 911 database. Residents can register cellphone numbers and email addresses to receive the notifications.

The purpose for the notifications is to warn residents of serious incidents in their neighborhoods.

“We have very strict standards of what it can be used for,” Scott said. “ It can only be used in imminent danger. You won’t receive school cancellations or something like that through this.”

Alerts could include warnings about a forecast for a tornado or snowstorm, missing children and dangerous suspects in the area.

“This is an incredibly important tool,” Scott said. “We want people to know if there is something they need to be aware of in their neighborhood.”

Sixty municipalities, including Salem and Kingston, use the state system.

Since receiving the notice from the state, Atkinson and Hampstead have made plans to register with the system. Other towns are interested, but have no definite plans to sign up quite yet.

“We are definitely interested,” Plaistow Deputy police Chief Kathleen Jones said. “But it’s all about having someone to maintain it and make sure it runs properly.”

Jones said the department has other ways to notify residents in case of an emergency.

“We’ve started down the path with Twitter,” she said. “We can set up a specialized mailbox that will play if people call the station or we can put information up on our website.”

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