Sign up for cell phone safety alerts

Discover why the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management is urging folks to check out their newly upgraded PublicAlerts system …

At a control console, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management Planning & Preparedness Manager Jonna Papaefthimiou sits ready to issue PublicAlerts calls when needed.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

From the backyard of her home in southeast Portland, to her office at the at Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) in outer East Portland, Planning & Preparedness Manager Jonna Papaefthimiou works to help keep neighbors safe in an emergency.

“In our back yard, we store one of 48 Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Nodes (BEECN) boxes, ready to be deployed in case of a major emergency, where communications are down,” Papaefthimiou said, adding that these BEECN stations are also located in outer East Portland.

Of projects on which she works is getting the word out about PBEM’s expanded “PublicAlerts” calling system. This system issues alerts by telephone when the public needs to take action to remain safe, such as staying inside, evacuating, or boiling water.

“As a PBEM duty officer, I carry a pager and one of the people who could be called upon to deploy the community emergency notification system, PublicAlerts, in case of a disaster; and we’re working to get more people to use the system,” Papaefthimiou explained.

PBEM Operations Manger David Blitzer and Director Carmen Merlo show the added capabilities of the upgraded PublicAlerts call system.

In the PBEM Command Center, Papaefthimiou was joined by bureau director Carmen Merlo and other emergency response officials.

“We have had a system similar to this, Merlo said. “The PublicAlerts system now has new, important features such as being able to register people in 10 of the most commonly spoken languages in Portland.

“The other capability is the Additional Needs Registry, for individuals who have mobility, hearing or sight issues, so we can provide assistance to them during emergency situations,” Merlo added.

All over the greater Portland area, people have signed up to get PublicAlerts calls on both their landlines and cell phones.

And, the updated system allows the user to register multiple locations in addition to their home address, such as work, schools, churches and clubs they frequent.

PBEM has access only to published and unpublished landline numbers. “More and more households have given up their landlines with a preference for a mobile home,” Merlo told East Portland News. “We have no way of getting them emergency information and telling them to take protective action unless we can reach them directly.”

PBEM Community Outreach Representative Felicia Heaton takes a test PublicAlerts call to demonstrate the upgraded system.

It’s free to sign up for PublicAlerts, and they don’t give out your phone number or call unless they’re sending an emergency notification. CLICK HERE to visit their website today – scroll down to “Emergency Notifications Sign Up” – and be ready to receive future safety messages.

© 2016 David F. Ashton for THE BEE

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