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Glitch causes delay in Johnston County's reverse 911

Reverse 911 is supposed to be a quick and easy way to warn residents about an emergency. However, some people in Johnston County say their system backfired.

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — A reverse 911 system is supposed to be a quick and easy way to warn residents about an emergency. Some people in Johnston County say their system backfired during Tuesday evening's storms, however.

As severe storms rolled through Johnston County, the county tired to warn 7,500 residents about the possibility of a tornado. Some folks didn't get the reverse 911 call until hours after the storm had passed, though.

The call said that “there had been a tornado sighted in our area in Johnston County around Kenly, Micro, Zebulon area and that we needed to seek shelter immediately,” Christine Cummings said about the reverse 911 call warning she got.

The problem is that Cummings residents got that call several hours after the storm had passed, just as her family went to bed.

“It was frightening, very frightening. Seems like the phone call should have came to us when the storm was actually going on,” Cummings said.

Other Johnston County residents reported experiencing the same thing.

Emergency Services Director Kim Robertson said his staff traced the problem to their reverse 911 company, Rapid Notify, based in California. Robertson said the company is changing carriers and blames a glitch in their system.

“They were very, very sorry for the inconvenience, and Johnston County Emergency Services is very sorry that the call went out later than it was supposed to,” Robertson added.

The exact nature of the problem and total number of late calls were still unclear Wednesday evening. Robertson said the county is working with the company to ensure it doesn't happen again.

“Thank goodness everything turned out OK last night, so it has given us a chance to rectify our problem and make sure we're ready for next time,” Robertson added.

Robertson said the county has used the Rapid Notify system successfully for the past three years and believes it is still effective. The company did not return WRAL's calls seeking its comment.