Borough launches new emergency alert system

The borough is rolling out a new emergency notification system months after a spotty tsunami response highlighted flaws in the borough’s 20-year-old disaster alert process.

KPB Alerts, unveiled April 30, features a number of new tools, including the ability to make geographic-specific notifications, send texts and quickly send out automatic alerts to landlines, cell phones and social media platforms.

This system is designed to push alerts out as many ways as possible automatically,” Dan Nelson, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management Program Manager, said.

Nelson said updating the alert system has been on emergency management’s agenda for a while, but had been on the back burner until the January tsunami.

“This went to the first priority right after that event,” Nelson said. “We saw that (Rapid Notify) was simply not working.”

A Jan. 23 7.9-magnitude earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska triggered tsunami watches and warnings for much of the Southcentral Alaska coastline, including areas on the Kenai Peninsula.

The borough’s Rapid Notify system, however, left some people in coastal communities without any warning at all of the potential disaster, while others in areas outside of the tsunami danger zone — like Kenai, Soldotna and Kalifornsky — got emergency alerts.

Nelson said the Rapid Notify system wasn’t able to handle the volume of alerts that needed to be sent out in the immediate aftermath of the quake, and didn’t have the ability to text well.

“The system simply didn’t do it for us,” Nelson said.

The borough worked to select a new vendor and get the new system up and running by May 1, ahead of wildfire season, Nelson said. 

Landlines enrolled in the Rapid Notify system will automatically be enrolled in KPB Alerts, but residents must add their cell phone numbers to the alert roster manually.

Personal information provided to the site will remain confidential and alerts will only be sent out in response to emergencies, such as the need for immediate evacuations, severe weather events or law enforcement activities.

To sign up for alerts visit alerts.kpb.us.

Reach Erin Thompson at ethompson@peninsulaclarion.com.