Closures, Weather, Hazards: State Offers Custom Emergency Alerts

Jul 25, 2014

Wouldn't it be great if you could have school closings, weather alerts and nearby road hazards all custom delivered to your phone or inbox? It's a technology that's already in full swing in New York, and is getting off the ground in Vermont.

Anyone can sign up for the VT-Alert.gov program, and register to receive alerts through email, text message or by phone. The website and alert service are run by the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and there is no charge for the customized alert service.

Signing up involves verifying your email address and/or phone number, and choosing which types of alerts you'd like to receive and for which parts of the state. When an alert is sent out to registered users, any accompanying emergency information is also posted to the website.

The system went online last October and emergency management officials say about 8,000 people have signed up to receive alerts. To date, most of the alerts issued have been severe weather warnings. But as towns, school districts and other state agencies begin to use the system, Vermont Emergency Management's Robert Schell says notifications could include issues such as local water main breaks, road construction and school closings.

Schell says the alert system is "building on the foundation the Emergency Alert System" that broadcasts warnings on local radio and television stations. He said that system, which was originally called the Emergency Broadcast System, was designed to give the President the ability to reach the country. He said the main difference between VT-Alert.gov and the Emergency Alert System is that with VT-Alert.gov the state is "asking the public to take on some responsibility to tailor what types of alerts they wish to receive."

VT-Alert.gov is modeled after New York's NY-Alert.gov. Schell says the New York system sends out about 1.3 million alerts per month to residents of that state. However, he noted, New York has a significantly larger population than Vermont.

The VT-Alert homepage states:

The information posted here will include severe weather warnings, significant highway closures, hazardous materials spills and many other emergency conditions. Additionally you will find information regarding response actions being taken by local and state agencies and protective actions that you should take to protect you, your family and your property.

Among the many types of emergency alerts available on the system are:

  • Severe Weather Alerts
  • Transportation & VTrans Alerts
  • AMBER & Missing Child/Person Alerts
  • Public Health Alerts
  • Nuclear Power Plant Information

Schell says a few Vermont towns have already signed on to push alerts to people who opt-in to receive them. Designated town officers can be authorized to post to the VT-Alerts website, according to information shared at a recent Elmore Select Board meeting. Towns will also be able to use the system to send alerts to members of select groups, such as the local fire department, road crew or select board.