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Severe weather alert system being altered

By By ANNA M. LEE Assistant Editor
When severe weather hits an area, people need to be notified quickly and efficiently, and Escambia County is adopting a new way to do that.
Reverse 911 is an outward bound call notification system with the potential to alert everyone who has a phone line in the county.
The system can be used for emergency alerts, area notifications such as road closings and community announcements, said David Jennings, director of the Escambia County Emergency Management Agency.
Though the system is physically located at the Brewton Municipal Center, it will be used to alert residents and businesses county-wide.
Administrators of the system can choose the area that should be notified and everyone in that area will receive an automated phone call from the Reverse 911 system.
The system is being installed now and there will be a period of training for the people using it and informing the public of its advantages and uses, Jennings said.
When the system becomes operational, every phone line in the county will receive an automated call giving the option to opt in or out of this free service, Jennings said.
Reverse 911 should be available for use early spring 2004, Jennings said.
Currently, schools are alerted about severe weather through the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service radar antenna at Baggett Circle in Brewton began operating in June.
Through Project Impact, weather radios were placed in schools. When a severe weather alert comes from National Weather Service in Mobile, the radios sound an alarm to announce the warning, said John Angel, Brewton city clerk.
National Weather Service alerts are issued in the case of tornadoes and other severe weather.
The National Weather Service antenna was paid for by a $49,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, Angel said.
The National Weather Service in Mobile maintains the antenna at no cost to Brewton, and Brewton pays Alabama Power $1 per year rent for the use of its tower, Angel said.
Though Brewton has in the past used sirens to alert the public during severe weather, the sirens are not operational now, said Pete Diurno, Brewton's director of community development.
There is the possibility that all of Escambia County could be outfitted with emergency sirens in the future through grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Department of Homeland Security requires that a study be conducted in each county to determine how many emergency sirens would be needed to cover the area.
Once that is determined, the county can apply for grant money to fund the installation of the sirens. The grant process is lengthy so the Escambia County Emergency Management Agency is looking into other funding opportunities too, Jennings said.
U.S. Geological Survey technology is used to assess flood risk in the Brewton area.
A flood gauge at Murder Creek on Hwy. 41 reports stream flow and water level data to a computer in Atlanta which analyzes the data every hour or every 15 minutes depending on the urgency to determine the probability of flooding, Diurno said.
Other such gauges in the area are located in Evergreen, Gant and on the Conecuh River.
The Brewton Municipal Center is equipped with generators to become the emergency operation base for the city in the case of very bad weather, Angel said.