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Chatham Co. Investing in Lightning-Fast Weather Notification for Elderly

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SILER CITY — Our weather warning systems aren't perfect. When thunderstorms, tornados or hurricanes hit, some people can't get the message in time, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. That's why Chatham County is investing in a lightning-quick automated warning system that's as simple as a phone call.

The Chatham County Council on Aging says it needs this system more than a lot of other places do. With 707 square miles, it's one of North Carolina's largest counties, and almost 20 percent of its residents are age 60 or older. That can make weathering a storm an especially difficult challenge.

With all the crazy weather in the past couple of years, many elderly, rural residents have had some frightening experiences.

"When you are alone the greatest fear you have is falling, being injured, something happening to you," said Chatham County resident Bill Dudenhausen.

The Chatham County Council on Aging is trying to make severe weather a little less threatening for its seniors. It will be the first county in the state to use an automated phone system to alert its 8,000 elderly residents when bad weather is on the way.

"Where we were able to call maybe 20 or 30 folks in a period of four hours, this should take care of, I guess maybe a couple of thousand people in the same amount of time that we were spending," said Cassie Wasko, senior service director for the council.

Wake County has one of these systems. It's used for calling in substitute teachers. When Chatham County gets its system, it will send out a pre-recorded message telling seniors what kind of weather is on the way, what preparations to take, and what kind of services the local senior agency has to offer.

"That way the people who are self sufficient will go on about their business and hopefully we'll hear from the folks who need assistance," said Wasco.

The oldest and frailest residents in Chatham County will still get a call from an actual human being, not the automated system.

The system costs about $50,000, but the state and federal government are footing the bill.

It's part of a project to build disaster resistant communities.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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