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Numerous Colorado counties looking to CodeRED for emergency alerts

Residents can sign up for emergency alerts to stay informed

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When a gunman opened fire on Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies in Highlands Ranch on New Year’s Eve, spurring a 90-minute standoff with authorities, many nearby residents received calls, texts or emails with details of the emergency and instructions for how to respond.

Residents were made aware of what was happening because they had signed up for notifications through the county’s emergency alert system, which in much of the Denver metro area and half of Colorado counties is run through a Florida-based company called CodeRED.

Nationwide, CodeRED has about 10,000 clients. Within the Denver metro area, Weld, Jefferson, Douglas and Adams counties use CodeRED. Arapahoe County is in the process of switching to CodeRED.

The company is also used by the state’s office of emergency management and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, said Troy Harper, general manager for CodeRED’s public sector operation.

How it works

What exactly is CodeRED and how does it work?

“CodeRED has been around for 20 years,” Harper said. “Over the past 20 years we have perfected the process of providing services for government entities to engage or communicate with their citizens, their staff, partners and vendors.”

Through the system, residents can opt-in for emergency alerts. They can choose to receive them by call, text, email or all of those options, for their home and work addresses.

Under a CodeRED account, people can add multiple addresses, so if someone lives in Colorado but owns a vacation home out-of-state, they can be alerted to emergencies in either location if CodeRED operates in both places. The CodeRED app also allows users to opt into alerts sent to them based on their location if they travel.

Government agencies can use CodeRED to inform residents of many different types of emergencies, such as police activity, active shooters, bomb threats or wildfires. If authorities need people to evacuate, avoid an area or shelter in place, they can send those instructions through CodeRED.

The time it takes for an alert to go out varies, officials said, but it averages between five and 10 minutes.

Douglas County Regional 9-1-1 Communications Manager Grace Reinis said the county’s emergency dispatch center receives directions from supervisors at the scene of an incident and then crafts the message it sends to citizens based on that information.

“Once we have what they want sent to the citizens, we open up the application and select the area we want hit,” she said.

Selecting how big an area to contact, also called geo-targeting, often takes the most time in issuing an alert, officials said.

Getting the word out

Officials say getting people to sign up for CodeRED alerts remains a priority for them.

Just 11,000 people in the Arapahoe County E911 Emergency Communications Service Authority’s (ACE9-1-1) 300,000-person jurisdiction signed up for emergency alerts under the provider the county used before CodeRED, said Executive Director Bruce Romero.

“The level of response we have is not acceptable in my books,” he said.

ACE9-1-1, which serves Arapahoe County minus the City of Aurora, chose CodeRED as its provider for emergency alerts from among three companies selected through a bidding process. They began transitioning to the CodeRED system last month. Training should be completed this month, after which ACE9-1-1 can go live with the new system.

Romero didn’t push recruiting new users once they determined the 911 authority would switch providers, he said, but he’s planning a rebranding and advertising campaign once CodeRED goes live in their jurisdiction, in order to boost enrollment.

Jefferson County had more than 60,000 contacts registered with CodeRED as of March 23 and Douglas County had approximately 177,000 contacts as of December, although it underwent an audit of its database that month that determined more than 33,000 were non-working numbers.

Contacts do not refer to individual people or individual homes, but phone numbers registered with CodeRED.

Jenny Fulton, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said landline phone numbers for residencies and businesses are automatically put into their system, but that won’t reach everyone.

“Obviously, these days a lot of people don’t have landlines so we’re really encouraging people to sign up,” Fulton said. “As many ways as you can receive it, it’s beneficial.”

“It’s something that we have to push constantly,” Reinis said.

A growing industry

Officials in metro-area counties said they are confident false alerts — like the erroneous report of a missile threat disseminated by Hawaii’s emergency management agency in January — are unlikely to happen in their jurisdictions, although nothing is impossible, they agreed.

CodeRED protocols essentially require their clients to triple check messages before they’re sent to the masses, Harper said. Personnel who issue alerts through the system need credentials to log in and must enter a passcode to actually send alerts.

“In my opinion, sending an accidental alert, especially in CodeRED, is almost nonexistent. There are a number of things that have to take place to make that alert go out,” Romero said.

Romero said he did check whether the Hawaii missile alert was issued through CodeRED before the 911 authority made its decision. Once he had that assurance other aspects of the company helped CodeRED stand out from competitors, including cost and what Romero called a user-friendly system.

Harper said CodeRED has placed a large emphasis on building its infrastructure, partnering with phone companies and data providers. He credits technological advancements for part of the company’s rise over the past decade.

Not all counties use CodeRED as their emergency alert provider. Coloradans can go to their municipality, county and state websites for more information on signing up for emergency alerts.

“These are really important and very effective systems,” Harper said. “This is a long-term industry that has really gained a lot of traction over the years.”

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