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Newton mayor vows to restore emergency alert system

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 5, 2010 08:42 AM

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During this week’s boil-water order — Newton’s third civic emergency in as many months — residents felt the absence of one city service Mayor Setti Warren has pledged to restore within two weeks.

‘‘We heard loud and clear — people want a Reverse 911 system,’’ Warren said in an interview Tuesday, just hours after Governor Deval Patrick lifted a boil-water order imposed after a pipe rupture left 2 million people in the region without drinkable water.

Reverse 911 is an emergency notification system designed by PlantCML, an EADS North America company. An emergency alert system, such as Reverse 911, is a method of reaching residents via landline or cellphone call, text message, or e-mail during states of emergency.

Restoring the system, which was cut due to budget constraints in 2009, was one of Warren's campaign promises, and $65,000 was appropriated for restoring it in the city's proposed 2011 budget.

‘‘The city did an excellent job during the latest crisis of making sure the public was informed,’’ said Warren, who previously contended with two rounds of flooding after heavy rains drenched the region in March and April.

‘‘We utilized a bank of 5,000 resident e-mails, as well as personal phone calls to at-risk residents, parents of schoolchildren on the City Connect service, and all 385 of the city's restaurants. But a reverse 911 system would streamline the system and make sure our residents have essential information. Every city and town should have this.’’

Former Newton alderman Ken Parker was one of the aldermen who voted to cut the Cohen administration's appropriation for the system.

‘‘It was a bloated system, and we were facing a possible Proposition 2 1/2 override that year,’’ Parker said in an interview Tuesday. ‘‘The city was using it for sending notices on trash pickup and yard waste disposal, which was numbing people to it. We were looking at teacher layoffs, police layoffs, that year, and something had to go.’’

Parker said that he had presented Cohen with a list of lower-cost options for the city, including a pay-per-use service expected to cost between $5,000 and $10,000, but those options were not integrated into the budget after the Board of Aldermen cut the original appropriation.

‘‘In all honesty, I think this whole thing was blown a little out of proportion,’’ Parker said. ‘‘I mean, it was inconvenient, but everyone knew. The media covered it well, and word of mouth gets around. You would have had to be pretty isolated not to be aware of the situation.’’

Linda Walsh, head of Newton Health and Human Services, said that her office had been communicating with Newton-Wellesley Hospital since the water crisis began, and had heard of no illness or injury related to water quality or or the boil order.

‘‘I was very concerned about that, that there would be illness or injury, especially scalding injuries among the elderly or families with young children,’’ Walsh said. ‘‘But there hasn't been anything like that reported, thank goodness.’’

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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