Our View: Text message emergency system is a wise investment

July 20, 2018 11:23:12 AM



Over the past two decades, weather science has made remarkable strides as new technology has enhanced the ability to predict storms, giving more specific information on when and where storms are likely to hit and gauge the severity of those storms. 


No doubt, those advances have saved lives. 


But another technology, one that was not specifically designed with weather emergencies in mind, has emerged as one of the greatest tools available during bad weather: the cell phone. 


As Lowndes County Emergency Services Director Cindy Lawrence noted during her appearance at the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday, the cell phone is often the most reliable and effective means of communication when a weather emergency occurs. 


"Often, the first thing that happens in a storm is the power goes out," Lawrence noted. "When that happens, it's the cell phone that becomes the best, sometimes the only, means of communication." 


Today, 77 percent of adult Americans have smartphones, according to data from the PEW Research Center, but in Lowndes County, we are not using that technology to its full effect where emergencies are concerned. 


For more than 10 years now, Mississippi State and Mississippi University for Women have been using an emergency notification system that relies on text messaging, and those systems have been widely praised for keeping students, faculty and staff informed in emergency situations. 


Lawrence would like to have that tool available to the LCES as well. She estimated it would cost $50,000 for the equipment and $15,000 per year for servicing a county-wide text message notification system. 


Although she has pushed for our city and county officials to add that technology to the emergency services provided by the LCES, the answer has always been the same. 


"It's a budget issue," she told the Exchange Club. 


We are not satisfied with that answer. If the city and county split the start-up costs -- $32,5000 for the first year and $7,500 annually after that, residents throughout the county would have access to this important service. 


It seems a minor cost, given its implications on public safety. 


The city and county spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on public safety each year. Adding a emergency text notification system seems a bargain, considering its benefits. 


Cell phones have proven to be extremely useful in emergency situations. We urge our county and city leaders to make sure that tool is used to maximum effect by providing this service to its citizens.