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DL seeks high-tech warning system

Detroit Lakes may invest in an emergency warning system, but it won't be in the form of sirens.

Past discussions have "revolved around a siren system, but personally I think there is so much more with technology we can do with our dollar," Police Chief Kel Keena said Monday afternoon during a Public Safety Committee meeting.

"Sirens worked in the '30s when people had their windows open in the summer," Mayor Larry Buboltz said. "They're not open now with air conditioning."

At the request of Keena, Detroit Lakes Public Schools Superintendent Doug Froke spoke to the group about the Honeywell contract the school signed to get Instant Alert messages out to parents and teachers wishing to participate in the announcement program.

The system is to "communicate to parents of incidents of emergency," he said.

The district signed a contract, based on a number of those that will be given the message, to purchase space on Honeywell's server to communicate the messages. Parents and teachers can then receive notices via text messages, cell phone and home phone recordings or e-mail.

"The school district will enter into things relatively slowly," he said of the type of messages that can be sent out.

For starters, messages will likely consist of winter weather related announcements, or maybe if there was a bomb threat that day that the situation was defused and things are back on track.

"Then you get the correct information out there," he said.

The school could also send out messages to individuals, saying their child's lunch money account is low, for example. Something minor, Froke said, that won't likely be used with this system.

The district will set the program up this fall, and parents will go online to input their contact information and how they want to be alerted.

Groups of parents can also be lumped together to receive certain messages that would only pertain to them. For instance, parents of all fourth graders could be notified when the children are returning from a field trip if it's been delayed for some reason.

After fielding some questions, Froke added that parents can get multiple notifications -- like text and e-mail -- the system can be used any amount of times because the user pays one flat rate, and when a message goes out, whoever is calling it in simply calls Honeywell or e-mails them with what needs to be sent out.

Fire Chief Jeff Swanson said he has never been in favor of sirens because they are old fashioned, but this new technology sounds like a good idea.

"I've never been too excited about sirens, but this is intriguing," Buboltz agreed.

Keena said he liked the flexibility of the system and that certain people within the city could be notified of announcements that would only pertain to them, for example, a gas line near their home broke.

City Administrator Bob Lousieau suggested meeting with Honeywell or other suppliers to get more information.

"This is a lot more valuable system," he said.

Buboltz added that he wants to know if other cities have tried a system like Instant Alert and would welcome any feedback about it.