EM_WEA+cellphone+alertGov. Jerry Brown’s office is urging state emergency and law enforcement agencies to take advantage of a system that uses cellphone towers to pinpoint and send alerts.

“The Wireless Emergency Alerts are just one addition,” said Lilly Wyatt, an Office of Emergency Services spokesperson. “It’s an additional tool that local agencies can use for public messages.”

Of the 58 counties in California, only 24 have signed up to send alerts through the system.

Wyatt outlined several reasons why other agencies didn’t sign up, including not knowing about it or thinking the system might be complicated.

Santa Cruz County agencies typically use two systems to send community alerts: a reverse 911 call to residents or a Nixle text message and email alert. The Wireless Emergency Alerts system differs from Nixle by allowing agencies to digitally designate an area to send mobile messages, regardless of whether users subscribe to receive alerts.

“If you live in Santa Cruz and you were on vacation for the day in San Francisco, and if there is an imminent threat in San Francisco, you would get (this alert) because your service provider changes from one location to another,” Wyatt said.

Representatives from local agencies praised the advancement in technology that allows law enforcement to instantly notify an area impacted by an emergency. Most smartphones made within the last five years support the function, with software already installed to receive alerts.

“We live in a technological world where we have to constantly be looking at what we have and what we use,” said Santa Cruz police Lt. Bernie Escalante. “If there’s something that’s potentially better than what we have and what we use, then we certainly would consider it.”

Capitola police Sgt. Cliff Sloma echoed the sentiment but said the police chief must first vet the system.

“He would review it, would determine what the benefits are and determine if it would be something good for the community,” Sloma said.

The bar for agencies to send alerts is high. Agencies wouldn’t typically use it for alerts about traffic or puma sightings, Wyatt said.

“It would be for imminent disasters that could jeopardize the public safety for a community and a number of people,” Wyatt said.

©2015 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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