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Council debates 911 mass-notification system

Council debates 911 mass-notification system

November 21st, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

A dispatcher uses a computer touchpad to transfer a call in the 911 Operations Center, located within the Jefferson City Police Department. (News Tribune file photo)

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

After years of working toward a mass-notification system, the Jefferson City Police Department will have to wait a couple of more weeks before it knows whether it will get the system.

The council placed a $22,000 agreement with Rave Mobility Safety on the informal calendar Monday due to contracting concerns. The agreement would authorize a mass-notification system at the police department.

The contract does not contain limitations regarding how Rave Mobility Safety will use subscribers' information, which Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley said was a "big, glaring contracting hole." He added he was worried the company may sell the information.

Through the system, the police department could send out mass notifications to those who subscribe to the service. Individuals would opt-in to the service and create profiles that include information they may want emergency personnel to know, such as health conditions, garage door passcodes or spare key locations. However, subscribers would not be required to add such information.

If a subscriber calls 911, an operator would see his or her account and could give emergency personnel information.

"Certainly it's a compelling reason for someone to sign up and have this information at maybe the most hectic time or most dangerous time. But, by this council agreeing to this and having this service provided, I view it, and a think a lot of residents would view it, as our blessing of the entire operation," Hensley said. "I recognize that you only put in the information that you're willing to share, but I think that comes with the assumption that only good things will be done with it."

While Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Graham argued Rave Mobility Safety housing personal data is similar to Facebook or Twitter, Hensley said that example is a "totally different situation" since the city is not contracting with social media platforms.

City Counselor Ryan Moehlman will contact Rave Mobility Safety regarding the contracting concern and plans to provide an update at the Dec. 3 council meeting.

If approved, the police department would use the mass-notification system for major events such as natural disasters to avoid desensitizing subscribers to the alerts, Police Capt. Deric Heislen said.

The department could have used the system when 4-year-old Darnell Gray was first reported missing, Police Chief Roger Schroeder said. The police department could not use the amber alert because the situation did not meet qualifications for the alert, he added.

Osage and Boone counties, as well as State Technical College of Missouri, use Rave Mobility Safety, and Lincoln University is about to enter into a contract with the company for a similar mass-notification system, Heislen said.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman said she was "absolutely against this bill" since there are other ways the department could inform the public, such as using social media more and continuing to send information to news organizations. She was also skeptical the police department's marketing campaign to encourage residents to subscribe to the service would be successful.

Nearly 8,500 accounts follow the police department's Facebook page, and more than 2,500 accounts follow its Twitter account. More than 4,100 accounts follow the Cole County Sheriff's Department's Facebook page.

"These could be utilized by JCPD and Cole County, but they're not being utilized by Cole County," Wiseman said. "I don't think this is a good use of public funds. I think instead we need to spend this on something else, more stormwater issues, many other pressing issues in the city."

Council members noted not everyone has social media accounts.

One public information officer must post to the department's social media accounts, Lt. Chad Stieferman said. Rave Mobility Safety would allow the department to post to all social media accounts and send a cellphone notification all at once.

Graham said he supported the bill since it would give residents another option to receive vital information.

"How much is too much to save a life?" he said. "I think (the) $22,000 we're putting into this for the residents of Jefferson City, I don't think that's too much money."

The police department has been working toward a mass-notification system for years, Schroeder said, adding the police department believes Rave Mobility Safety will be "a very effective mass-notification system."

The system would include a 911 feature where if a subscriber called the police department but was unable to speak, the 911 operator could initiate a texting conversation.

It could also improve efficiency for police personnel, Stieferman said. Police personnel would set up accounts through the service, giving the department a more efficient outlet to call detectives, negotiators and SWAT teams. Currently, personnel must text their supervisors whether they can arrive on scene or not.

The $22,000 cost includes support and maintenance of the system for a year. Cole County commissioners have discussed funding half of the total cost.

The contract would be for one year, with the option of four yearly renewals.

In other business Monday, the City Council:

Approved applicant Joe Lopez's request to rezone 2.98 acres at 105 Jaycee Drive from M-2 general industrial and RS-3 residential to C-1 neighborhood commercial. Lopez and property owner Samson Family LLC plan to renovate the building into an indoor sports practice facility.

The Jefferson City Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of application in October.

"We feel this is an exciting project for the city," said project consultant Patrick Kremer, with Central Missouri Professional Services. "There are limited facilities of this nature in the City of Jefferson and, therefore, we believe this project will serve an unfilled need for the community."

Heard a $333,844 land-lease agreement with Fischer Grain Farms Inc. for agricultural use of 501 acres. The agreement would be for one year with the potential of five annual renewals.

Approved a $941,242 contract with Lamke Trenching and Excavating Inc. to install a system of peak sanitary sewer storage. The basin would keep neighborhood sewers from overflowing into the environment, according to the bill.

Heard a $500,614 contract with MERA Excavating LLC for sanitary sewer replacements in the 1300 block of West Miller Street, 2100 block of Buehrle Drive and 500 block of Ellis Boulevard. The company would also do individual manhole replacements on Buchanan Street and Flamingo Road.