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Detroit Lakes signs up for Instant Alert

The Detroit Lakes Police Department has been testing the new Instant Alert Plus emergency notification system, which goes into effect Monday, for the last week. (Brian Basham/Tribune)

Quicker, better coverage; cheaper, more options. Those are just some of the reasons the City of Detroit Lakes and Lake View Township have signed a contract with Honeywell Corporation to provide Instant Alert Plus.

Besides providing various types of messages to residents, this is finally the answer to the warning sirens in town -- or lack thereof.

Police Chief Kel Keena said the emergency notification system can send 175,000 phone calls and 125,000 text messages -- via phone or e-mail -- every 15 minutes.

"You can create and store emergency messages for future use, or you can create unique messages on the spot and send them out," he said.

Detroit Lakes is leading Minnesota cities, but its sister program, Instant Alert, is used in several area schools.

"We are the first non-educational setting to employ this in Minnesota," Keena said.

The city approached the three surrounding townships -- Detroit, Lake View and Erie -- to participate as well, but only Lake View agreed to it. Cost of the program is free to residents, but Lake View Township and the city of Detroit Lakes are sharing the cost, which figures out to $1.25 per person.

The city and township have signed a three-year contract with Honeywell to provide Instant Alert Plus. The contract was signed in late 2008, and since then the city has worked to help build and design the site, and test and approve it.

Keena said he has tested out the program for the last week to two weeks, and there has been training for key city staff, Becker County dispatchers and librarians.

"It's easy to use and very fast," he said. "The place lights up" when he sends a test message to his staff at the police department, and "coverage is good."

There are two ways to sign up for the Instant Alert Plus program, which begins Monday. Either way, though, it's free.

First, people can go to to self enroll, or secondly, they can have someone assist them at city hall, the police department or the library.

"If they don't have Internet capabilities, there are people willing to help them enroll," he said.

The service is free and available to residents and business owners of Detroit Lakes and Lake View Township. There is a spot during the sing-up process asking where subscribers live, to ensure only residents are taking advantage of it. Keena said ideally the site and those who sign up will be monitored.

Not only is the service a benefit to the community, he said, it will also enable emergency personnel to respond from the field with updates on a gas leak, for example. Also, only certain areas of town can be notified if only that portion of town will be affected by whatever announcement is sent.

The Instant Alert Plus program can be sent to everyone signed up or just certain teams the city has established -- of which they've established 27 different ones thus far. Keena said pre-recorded messages for something the city knows is possible can also be recorded, like poor road conditions, tornado sightings, etc.

When a National Weather Service warning is announced, Keena said the city can also mimic those broadcasts, using the same language and instructions, to warn people.

"There's a lot of capability," he said.

"I'm excited about the technology, about the flexibility. It's much more desirable than sirens. We're finally closing that chapter," Keena added.

There is a possibility of the system going much broader one day as well. It's been discussed, he said, although the county hasn't agreed to it at this time.

"It could migrate into something countywide. We'll see."

To sign up, go to the City of Detroit Lakes' Web site at and click on the Honeywell Instant Alert link. The link will take you through a sign-up process.