New radios will warn residents faster and about more than just weather

NEW ENGLAND -- Technology can be a blessing and a curse, but for Hettinger County residents, new technology in the form of radios is definitely a blessing.

NEW ENGLAND -- Technology can be a blessing and a curse, but for Hettinger County residents, new technology in the form of radios is definitely a blessing.

Starting Tuesday of this week, New England-area residents were able to purchase All Hazard radios thanks to grant money from Homeland Security.

The Hettinger County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), consisting of individuals from the Hettinger County Commission and county offices, New England, Regent and Mott emergency and city officials and the Southwest District Health Unit, set out at the end of January to use the Homeland Security money to find a better way of notifying the public for all kinds of emergencies.

The radios are good for alerting people about all emergency situations besides bad weather, including flu pandemics, large scale fires, chemical spills or any kind of hazard that could happen in the county.

At first, the LEPC was looking at reverse 9-1-1 systems, but due to cost constraints, chose something the county and its residents could afford. The committee bought 256 NOAA All-Hazard radios soon to be running the All-Hazards Emergency Message Collection System or HAZCollect software system.


According to its brochure, HAZCollect has nationwide capability developed by the National Weather Service in coordination and cooperation with the United States Department of Homeland Security/FEMA. It offers emergency services officials full distribution of critical emergency messages through NWS channels and supports the Emergency Support Function #2 - Communication Annex of the National Response Plan.

In an emergency, a message is prepared locally and posted. Then the message is authenticated and formatted and speeds through NWS communication channels. It is then heard over weather radios.

"This is important because it's the only way of notifying the public in a speedy way. Sometimes we don't have minutes, but seconds to tell people to head to a shelter, where that shelter is or what to do in an evacuation," Hettinger County Emergency Manager Ilene Hardmeyer said. "This is a way to give people more information on a local and county wide level which is important to us."

Hardmeyer visited with NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist J.P. Martin on what kind of radios to get and checked around with various companies to get a decent rate by ordering in bulk. The planning committee went with the Midland 200 radio.

With the HAZCollect system, the software must be set up and protocol training by Hardmeyer and the Hettinger County Sheriff's Office must be done to make the software fully operational for the radios.

"HAZCollect hasn't been set up for us yet, but the radio and program works now," Hardmeyer said. "Once the software is set up completely, hopefully by this summer, we will be able to get information out to people faster. Right now because of protocol, it takes something like seven minutes to get an alert out, but once it's completely set up, it will take one minute."

When an emergency currently happens, Hardmeyer and others fax a sheet to the DES who notifies the NWS. The NWS types in the information to be broadcasted on the radios. The turnaround is longer this way, but when HAZCollect software and protocol training is completed and approved, the turnaround is much shorter.

"People should know we can notify them of things now, but it will just be a longer frame of time," Hardmeyer said.


The committee is selling the radios for $15 to the public, when in most stores the same radios can cost around $60. The committee felt $15 is a price people in the county could afford.

With the money made from selling the radios, the group will buy more to sell in order get radios out to as many people as possible. Hardmeyer is contacting their supplier on Monday about getting more radios.

"We hope to make this an ongoing thing," Hardmeyer said. "People can call me and still get radios, just leave their name in a message and I will save them one."

People can call Hardmeyer at home at 701-824-4227.

"We are very happy with what we've sold so far. Hey, more out there that will warn people about an emergency," Hardmeyer said. "The more people interested in this, the more radios we want to get out as best as we can."

The committee is hoping to sell radios until there is no money left to do so, she added. It is possibly looking at a 2007 grant to see if it can do this again next year.

Hettinger County Auditor Roy Steiner was in New England to help program weather channels into the radios and to answer questions on programming them for residents.

Steiner said there are several choices on how the radio can be programmed to alert people. It can be through various sounds, voice, both sounds and voice or light. The radios can be plugged in or run on three AAA batteries.


If it runs out of batteries or gets unplugged, everything programmed into it, except the time, is still there when it's turned back on. The nicest thing with these radios is Steiner said they can be programmed to certain stations. So instead of the radios that alert to bad weather all over the state, these can alert the user to only the counties they want to know about.

Hardmeyer has been contacted by other county emergency managers in the state.

"I know Adams and Grant counties are thinking about doing something similar, but are seeing how we do this week," she added. "I know Adams County didn't want to start doing something like this until they got a tower that will set them up with better reception and now there is going to be one in Scranton."

Hardmeyer is referring to the dual weather transmitter made possible by Consolidated and the NWS, which is hoped to be installed by June in time for the inclement weather season.

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