Vail to test emergency broadcast system Wednesday, May 2; expect texts, audible alerts in and near town | VailDaily.com

Vail to test emergency broadcast system Wednesday, May 2; expect texts, audible alerts in and near town

This map from the Vail Public Safety Communications Center outlines the areas of town that will be affected by Wireless Emergy Alert and a broadcast system test next Wednesday, May 2.

VAIL — It will sound as though something is seriously amiss in Vail on Wednesday, May 2, but as the old television announcements used to say "it's only a test."

The Vail Public Safety Communications Center is asking for the community's help Wednesday as it prepares to test two emergency warning notification systems. The Wireless Emergency Alert notification is a federal system that allows local agencies to send alerts to cellphones in the area, even if they haven't subscribed to the local EC Alert notification system. In addition to testing the Wireless Alert system, public safety officials will be evaluating a backup siren system for emergency notification.

Emergency management officials plan to initiate the local wireless alert test at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, within Vail's boundaries. This is the same notification in which Amber Alerts are sent to disseminate information about a missing person. During the test, anyone with a cellphone within Vail — that includes residents, employees, visitors and travelers on Interstate 70 between mile markers 172 and 182 — should expect to receive the alert.

The message will read "EC EMO: TEST emergency message. Go to ec-e.org to provide feedback. No other action needed." Variable message signs on I-70 will be used to alert travelers of the local test.

In the event of a real emergency, the test will be postponed to another date.

Recipients of the test alert will be asked to assist the 911 call center by completing a short survey that will be included in the test message. This includes information about when they received the message, as well as their physical location. To encourage participation, survey-takers will be entered in a prize drawing that will hand out several $100 gift cards.

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West Vail broadcast

Also on May 2, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., residents of West Vail may hear test messages broadcast over a speaker system as officials evaluate the effectiveness of a long-range acoustic device that will be temporarily installed at the West Vail Fire Station. The device is a powerful, directional speaker that has the ability to be heard a quarter mile away.

The test messages may also be audible inside buildings and will last 15 seconds at a time with a pre-recorded message: "This is a test of an emergency notification system, no action is required."

Testing accuracy

This first local test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system will be used to determine the accuracy of the technology's mapping, as well as the time it takes to complete the notification. Because these wireless messages are limited to only 90 characters, recipients will be directed to http://www.ec emergency.org for more information, including a version in Spanish.

In the event of a real emergency, the local wireless alert will begin with "EC EMO," which represents the alerts' authorization by Eagle County Emergency Management Officials. The remainder of the alert would include a brief description of the emergency and what to do.

Jennifer Kirkland, 911 operations administrator of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, said the upcoming wireless alert test will be important in determining how the system will be used to disseminate critical emergency information in the future, including evacuation notices that need to be communicated rapidly to locals and guests.

"Eagle County has a high number of guests on an annual basis," Kirkland said. "The Wireless Alert System is one of the best tools we have to reach our guests in the event of an emergency. We want to make sure we are aware of its capabilities and limitations."

Kirkland noted the communications center has partnered with the Eagle County Public Information Officers Group to implement a community awareness campaign in advance of the Wednesday, May 2, test. Information is being distributed thorough local media outlets, as well as outreach to lodges, businesses and large employers. In the event of a real emergency, official information will be available at http://www.ecemergency.org.

Additionally, local emergency services organizations remind residents and visitors alike that their ability to survive a disaster is dependent upon developing a family disaster plan. Registering for emergency notifications at http://www.ecalert.org is an important first step. More information on developing a disaster plan can be found at http://www.ready.gov/makeaplan.

Looking for assistance

The Eagle County Public Information Officers Group is seeking volunteers to help document the wireless test geographic reach. This includes locations in Eagle-Vail, Avon and Edwards. If you can help, then contact Kirkland at 970-477-3413 by Monday, April 30.

During the test of the siren system in West Vail, the fire and police departments are exploring the potential use of a high-powered speaker system to assist in emergency evacuations and notification at outdoor events.

For additional information, visit http://www.ecemergency.org or contact Kirkland at 970-477-3413.