Government
11:21 am
Thu November 15, 2012

City Council Considers Buying New Emergency Alert System

Pittsburgh would contract with a private vendor to implement a state-of-the-art emergency alert system under new legislation in City Council.

Councilman Corey O'Connor's bill would allow the city's Emergency Management Agency to send out a request for proposals (RFP) to technology companies that deal in emergency alert software.

Deputy Director of Emergency Management Ray DeMichiei said he expects the alert system to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, though the final cost will depend on the scope and quality of the alert system that Council wants. DeMichiei himself is advocating for a comprehensive alert system, which would include automatic emails, text messages, cell phone calls, land line calls, and social media use.

"If you want to drive this information further into the population, it's going to [cost more]. There are vendors out there, and they're out to make money. They're not out there to do a public service," said DeMichiei.

The private company to win the bidding process would be responsible for phone calls and text messages, said DeMichiei. He said one system would allow the city to automatically send emergency calls and texts to all mobile phones in the purview of certain cell phone towers in the area. The emergency management chief said that would be an improvement over the city's current system, which calls land lines only.

"For example, my daughter doesn't have a wire in her house, except for internet connectivity. Everything's on cell phones," said DeMichiei. "While we do have the wire capability right now, that's pretty much passe. Everybody's going wireless."

However, some Council Members were not thrilled by the idea of Pittsburgh's emergency alert system sending automatic calls and texts to non-residents of the city. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak pointed out that the emergency alert service would benefit suburbanites as much as Pittsburghers.

"What concerns me is that the city of Pittsburgh would be shouldering the burden for communicating to almost a million people, on a tax base of three-hundred-thousand," said Rudiak. "We just encounter the same problems that we always have."

Both Rudiak and Council President Darlene Harris said the price of the new alert system should be shared by Allegheny County.

"I think would be something where we should talk to the County Executive on this, and see if there's any funding anywhere," said Harris. "I think this is very important, but I don't think it should just fall on the backs of the taxpayers of Pittsburgh."

The emergency alert legislation has been held for a post-agenda discussion. It appears as though some form of the bill will eventually pass, though: four Council Members currently sponsor the proposal and at least another two have voiced their commitment to it.