GOFFSTOWN — In an emergency, most people know to call 911 to get help. But what if a dam breaks near your home or people need to be evacuated because of a toxic spill or other emergency?
That’s when Reverse 911 becomes a vital tool. Reverse 911 is a free service provided by the state’s Division of Emergency Services and Communications, and Goffstown will soon have the ability to call residents’ phones during an emergency in town and within a particular neighborhood.
“With Reverse 911, we can reach more people and pick a geographic area,” said Police Chief Patrick Sullivan. “It won’t be used for road blocks because of a traffic accident, but will be used for a school issue or if a large tanker spills hazardous materials on the road.”
The Board of Selectmen voted at its meeting on Monday to opt into the state program as another tool to help police and fire personnel alert residents. There is no cost to the town, and alerts will be received through residents’ landline phones.“
It will provide a great benefit,” said Selectmen Chairman Collis Adams. “When the rollover of the propane truck on Daniel Plummer Road happened about a year ago, that’s a great example of where this would be useful.”
Reverse 911 is different from Nixel, another alert system used by firefighters, police and town officials. Nixel is a publishing system that allows towns to send messages and assign a priority level to alert drivers about a road closure, construction detours, an important meeting in town or other community events. To receive Nixel notices through cell phones, texts or via email, people have to sign up.
Reverse 911 is useful to alert residents about hurricanes or severe ice storms, an escaped prisoner or a dangerous suspect on the loose, and other threats to public safety. Instead of making individual calls or using a public address system, an authorized person records a message and tells a computer which phone numbers to call. The system uses a computerized geographical information system that provides street mapping and a database of phone numbers.
In Goffstown, Chief Sullivan and Fire Chief Richard O’Brien have been appointed authorized users and, pending selectmen’s approval, authority may be extended to the police and fire departments’ second in command, said Sullivan.
Training is also involved, and the town has to adhere to several guidelines such as logging all calls and who authorized the message.
There will be a learning curve, Sullivan said. He hopes the system in Goffstown will be available in a month or so.“I’ve been out West, and it worked on my phone. It was very well used, and we will use it when appropriate,” Sullivan said.