Stark County residents in Dickinson and Gladstone may have recently received a message from the Stark County Department of Emergency Service asking them to shelter in place or be aware of an ongoing situation. The messages are a part of the county's 911 citizen notification program to inform the public about what to do in various emergency situations.
Bill Fahlsing, emergency manager for the county, said the system has been in place for many years and is used at the discretion of law enforcement or other first responder personnel.
Law enforcement will notify dispatchers to send out a notification to a specific area of town or the county. The message is then sent out to each address within the area. The system is even able to pinpoint a specific address to send the alert out to, Fahlsing said.
People with a landline will receive a call to their phone and those signed up with their cellphone may receive a call and a text message.
People can register their cell phones for the 911 citizen notification program by going to www.starkcountynd.gov/cellphone. All landlines are automatically registered for 911 citizen notifications, Fahlsing said. Stark County citizens are encouraged to enter their cellphones into the database, but it is not mandatory, he said.
P.O. boxes are not valid for the notifications, as they are made based on physical address locations. People can register multiple phone numbers for a single address by filling out the form for each phone number.
"We highly encourage people to subscribe their cellphones so that way if there's an event in your neighborhood and you're not home you still get that notification," Fahlsing said.
He said, to his knowledge, law enforcement has mostly utilized the system, but the system could be used by the fire department or some other agency to give instructions to citizens.
The alerts were recently used during an incident that originated in Dickinson but later moved to the Gladstone area, asking residents in the area north of Gladstone to be on the lookout for a white, middle-aged male on foot possibly attempting to seek shelter. The man was later arrested and charged with multiple offenses. It was also utilized by the Dickinson Police Department during an incident at an apartment building in February.
Dickinson police Capt. Joe Cianni said the purposes for the alerts differ.
"It's case by case," he said. "It could be a large case; it could be a small case. It could be a matter of just trying to locate someone, something like 'be on the lookout for this person' in the neighborhood."
Cianni said the ability for dispatch to pinpoint a very specific area to send out the notification to is beneficial to them as well.
"It could be one-half a block or it could be half a mile," he said. "... It's just a tool; there isn't something that says it has to be a certain level of crime or incident. If we feel we have to hit the (citizen notification) and alert the public, then we'll do that."
Cianni said the department does use the alert system often because they do not want the public to become too desensitized to the notifiications.
"We try not to overutilize, it but it's always there as a tool for us to use," he said.