Reverse 911 training set to begin

October 16, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

Emergency operations employees will train this week on Carroll County's new Reverse 911 system in anticipation of putting the equipment to use by the end of the month.

Six operators will learn the system during two days of training in the computer lab at the County Office Building. After they have mastered the system, they will train other emergency responders.

The $110,500 system, paid for with a $65,500 grant from the Department of Homeland Security and $25,000 in county funds, will notify residents quickly in an emergency, officials said.

"This is an important part of our emergency notification capability," said Bill Martin, emergency management coordinator for Carroll County. "It will be a great improvement and give us much better opportunities to notify people."

When Westminster experienced problems at its water treatment plant last week, the Maryland Department of the Environment advised the city to issue a boil water order to the nearly 8,000 homes and businesses on the public water system.

The city notified radio and television stations and the Emergency Operations Center. Had the Reverse 911 system been available, the city could have programmed the telephone numbers of its water customers and called them all.

"This last week would have been a golden opportunity to use it," Martin said.

Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson has ordered a review of the city's response to the water emergency, which ended Tuesday when the water tested clear. Ferguson will make the outcome of the inquiry public at a council meeting. He also plans to meet with county and state officials and the county Health Department.

"We will be in those meetings to assess the incident and to determine where we need to move," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "We also hope to share the lessons learned."

After an unrelenting downpour Oct. 8, water treatment plant operators noticed a spike in turbidity levels - a condition that could allow parasites to contaminate the water - early the next day.

The standard allowable turbidity level is 0.3; Westminster's water plant registered levels of up to 2.0 for several hours last Sunday, said Thomas B. Beyard, city director of planning and public works.

"You wouldn't notice with the human eye or be able to taste any difference," he said. "But the fear with turbidity is" that chlorine used to treat the water will not destroy parasites that bond to the sediment from the bottom of the city's reservoir.

Although the problem was detected about 2 a.m. last Sunday, many local officials were not notified until late Monday afternoon.

The lagging communications delayed until Monday night a decision to close public schools in Westminster, left parents scrambling to notify each other, and left residents worrying about the safety of the city's drinking water.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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