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Detroit Lakes officials want more to sign up for Instant Alert

Not nearly as many people as expected have signed up for the Instant Alert Plus program -- available free through the city and Lake View Township -- but with upcoming spring weather and an appearance at ParkFest, Detroit Lakes Police Chief Kel Keena is hoping for more.

"I hope that people continue to enroll and the number of recipients continue to grow, and that we don't have to wait until we have some severe weather event to kind of rekindle interest in this," he said.

"Imagine what the cities of Fargo and Moorhead could have done with this during the flood."

There are 686 people enrolled, although there has been a fairly steady stream of people registering since it opened up in March.

"There's never really been a rush and there's never really been a dead spot," he said.

People can register online at, or in person at the police station, library or city hall.

Keena will also have a booth set up at the May 12 ParkFest and will be on hand to give demonstrations and sign people up in the Pavilion.

People can receive alerts via cell phone, home phone, work phone, fax, e-mail, or text.

There are numerous things Keena can do with the program. He can manage the list of people enrolled, choose teams of people he wants to send certain alerts to, see how messages were received or not received, pre-record or send out new messages and view many, many, many more details.

The system serves other purposes as well. In April, when the Detroit Lakes Fire Department's pagers were down for several days, the fire chief and dispatchers were able to send out messages in the form of pages when the fire department was needed.

"What this Instant Alert Plus system did then was substituted for their pager system for a couple days while they got their pager system reconnected," Keena explained.

"We were able to send that message to just that one team (of fire fighters) instead of sending it to the entire population that was enrolled in this."

In managing the teams and people enrolled, Keena has divided recipients into "teams" or groups of people.

"For instance, if Becker County were to vote to take this system over and offer it countywide, there would be a format then that they could start to follow," he said.

The county could establish a team for each township, for example, or each fire department, rescue squad, etc.

Keena has started a new team -- businesses in town -- for law enforcement purposes too.

"Say somebody is in town and they are cashing stolen checks or using counterfeit money, we can create a quick little message that says, 'Wal-Mart got stung for 17 $100 bills at noon today. Penneys got hit after that, so instruct your clerks that if they get any $100 bills with this serial number on it, call 911 and try to delay the people wanting to make the transaction until the police can get there,' or that kind of a thing."

There are several people with the OK to send out messages on the alert system. Some can send, some can check data, some can do it all.

"Depending on your security clearance, you're allowed to do some things and not other things," he said.

Keena said the only criticism he's heard is that in the testing stages, some people thought the system was overused.

"They were going, 'Geez, what are we going to get, two of three of these a day? Take me off it,'" he said. "So, the people who did enroll early had to suffer a little bit while we trained with and got accustomed to the system. Now we have really reined in our use of the system."

The system, though, is everything and more Keena could have hoped for.

"I'm just tickled. I think the system is phenomenal. The capacity to do different things and the horsepower is phenomenal. It's inexpensive. It's flexible. It has a lot of capabilities," he said.

Keena would like to show those capabilities to more participants, too.

"I really thought that if we've got a population of 9,000 people between us (the city of Detroit Lakes) and Lake View (Township) we'd have had 4,000 to 5,000 signed up by now," Keena said.

Staffers at Honeywell say not to worry though, there will be more signing up now that it's spring.

Keena said he's thought about sending out a notification asking all recipients to just get one friend to sign up and it would double the user number, but that isn't what the system was designed for either.

"I want to use this for emergency notifications, for things we can't accomplish through normal channels," he said.

Keena said he hasn't heard anything more from Detroit and Erie townships since the city approached them to join program and the townships turned down the offer, but the county board has expressed some interest for the future.

"There's been some discussion, but I don't think the county is really ready to move forward on the alert system yet," County Administrator Brain Berg said.

He added that there has only been minimal discussion on the topic, and the county hasn't even talked about funding, township coverage, etc.

"If we do for one, we have to for all,' he said of the township participation.

The county is certainly not willing to take the alert system on as a whole at this time, he added.