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Flaws Found in Orange County's Reverse 911 System

Posted March 31, 2008

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— The first test of Orange County's reverse 911 found flaws in the system designed to alert residents of an emergency.

When Zander Mcgee, 2, wandered away from his home Tuesday night, the county's new reverse 911 system was activated.

While rescue crews searched on the ground and from the air for Zander, calls went out to residents within a 4-mile radius of his home in southern Orange, near the Chatham County line.

"The biggest feeling that I had initially is just helplessness," father Rick Mcgee said.

The search ended when a neighbor found Zander, who has autism, along a road on the other side of woods behind his home. The neighbor heard about the missing boy from a friend and said she never received the reverse 911 call, even though she lives just 300 yards from Zander's house.

"There is not really a good way for us to tell right now who actually in that area didn't get that call," said Orange County Emergency Management Specialist Clint Osborn.

Osborn said the county contracts with a company to provide the reverse 911 service. Apparently, Osborn said, the company's database is not up to date. Of the 12,000 calls made, fewer than half connected.

"They are very clear about the limitations of that data. They say that their data will only cover a certain percentage of the total numbers in your area," Osborn said.

The county can purchase an updated list of numbers from area phone companies. County officials said it is expensive, but something they are considering.

"I can see that there is definitely room for improvement, but I also have to say that I'm overall pleased with the response from Orange County," Osborn said.

McGee's father said that even with the flawed reverse 911 system, he feels confident his son would have been found, just not as fast.

Orange County residents can enter their information into the database, by logging on to CodeRED® Residential Data Collection.

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  • Chuck U Farley Apr 1, 2008

    Also, I doubt the "reverse 911" system can find people who only use cell phones or use VOIP. This system sounds like an idea whose time has already passed. Noone under the age of 30 has a land-line phone.

  • SailbadTheSinner Apr 1, 2008

    Having designed several 911 centers, I would ask a few questions: Why would a 911 center want the technical and paperwork nightmare associated with keeping up with a list of numbers that map onto particular areas? Why would they want to support on a 24/7/forever basis the equipment necessary to support the call density needed for reverse notifications? Why would they want to pay a separate company to do the same thing?

    As the article says, maintaining an updated list is expensive. So is the equipment.

    This may be a function that is best accomplished directly by the area telephone company, or companies as the case may be, on a contract basis.

    It may not “look as good” to the public, but I expect it would be considerably more cost effective ....

    STS