By William J. Schauman
Director of Public Safety, Indian River Shores, Florida
ndian River Shores is a small, affluent beach community located on a barrier island in Indian River County, Florida. The town has an almost nonexistent crime rate, limited commercial development, and an average income in triple digits. The average age of residents is approaching 70. Realistically, public safety officers could not afford housing in Indian River Shores, making them often feel alienated from the community. The agency needed a mechanism that would create a personalized relationship with the community, so it created a Web-based community watch program that included a cell phone and e-mail alert system. The system is designed to be simple enough that there is no need for an Internet technician. The system allows the community liaison officer or the volunteer public information officer to post real-time alerts, articles, banners, and photos.
The first step was to establish a Web site (www.irspsd.org) that made available the cell phone alert and e-mail option. Residents can easily and quickly enroll to receive the cell phone alerts by providing their name, email address, and cell phone number on the sign-up page. Once the system receives this contact information, the resident receives a text message on the cell phone and an e-mail message confirming that the alert system has been activated. The Web site simultaneously provides community members with the same information.
Meeting the Community’s Needs
The system has been used to send immediate information about missing persons, hurricanes, suspicious incidents, dangerous marine-life threats, or other major events as soon as they occur.
The system is particularly helpful during the hurricane season when accurate, verified information regarding the status of the storm (watches or warnings), availability of power, water, cable, phone or road conditions, and damage assessments can be transmitted to residents wherever they may be at the time.
The system has backup devices so that the alerts may be input by public safety or qualified volunteers from remote locations in the event that phone or power has been disrupted in the town. It has even been tested using a satellite phone to transmit the alert information to a remote location for input. Further, the Web site is hosted in California so the service will not fail if a hurricane hits Florida.
The Web site and alert system can also provide the residents with articles on public safety activities, a town calendar, links to volunteer organizations, weather conditions and forecasts, health and safety services, and personal and home security tips.
The cell phone alert system has been available for approximately two months now and has about 400 subscribers. The numbers are expected to increase substantially as the word gets out and residents begin to return to town for the winter season.
So far, the benefits to the town and police agency have been substantial. Residents were alerted to a hurricane watch for Tropical Storm Ernesto before the news was released through the normal media outlets. The residents also have the opportunity to share in public safety activities and create a more personalized relationship with the community. The officers also discuss the system with residents when they visit the station or when they are actively involved in their community policing activities.