Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Hires Alert-System Vendor

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Bergen Hires Alert-System Vendor

Article excerpt

Drawing lessons from the lethargic performance of the county's emergency alert system last summer -- when a warning to boil tap water failed to reach hundreds of thousands of Bergen County residents -- county officials hired a new emergency system vendor that can send alerts via text message and e-mail.

The Board of Freeholders unanimously awarded a preliminary $150,000 contract to C3 Holdings of Nutley at its meeting Wednesday night. C3 was one of five vendors to respond to a bid request that was written, officials say, with an eye toward avoiding the problems that plagued the county system one Saturday in August.

"So many things went wrong," said Lt. Dwayne Razzetti of the Bergen County Police Department and deputy coordinator for emergency management for the county. "It's a day I hope I don't see again."

Late on the night of Aug. 3, two lightning bolts struck a United Water treatment plant in Haworth that provides about 150 million to 160 million gallons of water per day to North Jersey. The direct hit cut power to the plant and shut down its backup generators. The utility advised emergency officials in Bergen and Hudson counties to tell residents to boil their water.

In Bergen County, getting that message out proved to be a problem.

It was the first countywide test of the so-called reverse 911 system, which officials bought with fanfare in 2004, saying it could quickly dial thousands of phone numbers and broadcast an emergency warning. Under its most recent contract, which expired in November, Bergen County paid Swiftreach $120,000 a year for use of its technology, plus a fee for every number dialed. Under the deal, about 30 Bergen towns also contracted with Swiftreach, paying the company about $5,000 a year, plus 3.5 cents per telephone call.

Before Aug. 4, the system at most "made calls to 50,000 people [and] it would take a half-hour,' Razzetti said. "It was never a problem."

But a large-scale alert to nearly 1 million phones proved more difficult.

"If you're trying to put 200,000 cars down a highway that's meant for 10, you're going to have some jams," he said.

County records and interviews show that the system did not reach several towns that were affected by the advisory, and e-mails among emergency management officials that day showed frustration. …

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