City Upgrades Alert System, Saves Money

Louis Krauss, News Editor


City Council will save thousands of dollars on the city’s emergency alert system by joining the Lorain County Wireless Emergency Notification System. The city’s alert system allows those who subscribe to re­ceive notifications via text, phone call or email of vari­ous hazards such as water contamination, fires and tornados.

Making the switch to the county-wide system, which has many more subscribers, will decrease the annual cost of emergency alerts from $5,840 to $414.

Whereas in the past Oberlin used a similar pro­gram called Code RED that sent out alerts strictly to those within city limits, the WENS allows the city fire department and other city workers to notify those in the surrounding townships.

City Fire Department Chief Robert Hanmer, who explained the new program to council Monday, said this integration would allow the city to create a big­ger web of notifications for natural hazards in a much larger area.

“If we had a hazardous material released that was going to affect other communities, we can highlight where the effect would occur and warn them of it,” Hanmer said.

The other benefit is that WENS provides weather updates immediately after they are issued by the Na­tional Weather Service.

The city declined to join WENS in 2013, mostly be­cause it prevented city officials from putting out alerts for Oberlin-specific issues. However, Hanmer said that since then, the online program has gradually improved and now allows more control by individual cities.

“Originally, we didn’t have any administrative rights on the WENS system, so we couldn’t really issue emergency alerts for water contamination,” Hanmer said. “Now that the system is up and running with the county, they’ve given us more rights to put out our own alerts and messages to people.”

City Manager Rob Hillard, who first came to Ober­lin last fall, pointed out that the notification technol­ogy has greatly improved since the 2013 adoption of programs like Code RED and WENS.

“Before cell phones became popular, the county used a system called Reverse 9-1-1 to alert residents of any emergency,” Hillard said. “When residents began to discontinue use of landlines, Reverse 9-1-1 did not have the capability of contacting those that used cell phones exclusively.”

According to Hanmer, the city will start using WENS within the next month and added that Code RED and WENS will be used simultaneously until switching at the start of January. Both Code RED and WENS are voluntary and free but require users to sub­scribe online.

Hillard told the Oberlin News-Tribune that it’s an important step in improving local communications.

“This is not a decision we’re making lightly or be­cause we can save approximately $5,000. This is about reinvesting in “Toni makes it a point to be accessible and listen to students,” Smith wrote in an email to the Review. “You can always come to the MRC in Wilder 208! [The MRC] is a more social space and Toni brings so much love and laughter into the space. … Toni is always there to listen.”