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Sign ups for Stark County Reverse 911 spike after June crime wave

If you live on or near Carroll Street, you may have received an alert from Stark County Emergency Services about a SWAT search for an armed suspect on June 20.

If you didn’t, you may have wanted to.

Subscribers to the county’s Reverse 911 alerts spiked following a busy week of crime in Dickinson, but officials say most citizens still aren’t aware of the service.

“We’ve had this system for about two years now,” emergency manager Bill Fahlsing said, “and we’ve had some success with getting individuals to register.”

Roughly 500 users are signed up for the service, about double what it was before a trifecta of crime activity unfolded between June 20 and 23: an attempted armed robbery at a trailer park that ended in a shooting; the SWAT search that ended when a Dickinson Police officer shot and killed the armed suspect, Timothy Bowling; and the arrest of a suspect in a Watertown, SD, armed robbery.

“Word really got out about the Reverse 911 system,” Fahlsing said. “After these events, people were actively seeing that multiple, a variety of events, can happen, and they realized the importance of the system to notify the public.”

Landlines are automatically alerted in the event of an emergency — a possible shooter, or a hazardous material spill — Fahlsing said.

“Every situation is different, but we provide the key safety information to keep citizens safe,” he said.

Dickinson Police dispatch drafts the message and sends it out, often advising the public what to do. It often sends updates on the situations as needed and later sends out follow-up messages when the threat is over.

“It is a very good way to warn the public,” Detective Terry Oestreich said. “If there’s something, we can reach really pretty much everybody we need to very quickly.”

It’s a valuable tool for law enforcement as well.

Oestreich recalled the incident in June 2009, when two escaped fugitives from Alabama ended up in Dickinson with two women who allegedly helped them escape from prison. A Reverse 911 message was sent throughout the area. A short time later, a farmer in Gladstone called in to report that he had seen two individuals walking into his detached garage.

Police responded and were able to capture all four suspects after a standoff.

“With major crimes when it’s been used, it’s very beneficial,” Oestreich said. “It worked very well that morning because we were really searching. And within minutes of a Reverse 911 going out, we got the call (from the farmer).”

Alerts are location-specific and are a faster means of warning the public than posting updates on the Stark County Emergency Services Facebook page, Fahlsing said.

But with the popularity of cellphones and the number of newcomers to the city with no permanent residence, many citizens end up out of the loop, said Dana Becker, public safety support supervisor with the Dickinson Police Department.

“There’s a lot of families now that don’t have a landline any longer in their home,” she said. “That leaves a lot of people out of the matrix” during an emergency.

Residents can register their cell phones — regardless of area code — at the Stark County website; a physical address and email address are required.

Fahlsing said he highly encourages people to sign up.

“We might not be at home when an event might happen,” he said.

Even though relatively few Stark County residents have signed up to receive alerts on their cellphones, Becker said it’s great that more “forward-thinking” people are registering for the service.

“You don’t think about 911 until you need it,” she said.

To sign up for Reverse 911 messages, go to and click on the registration link on the left in the “In Departments” column.