Henrico County VA
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County implementing ‘Code Red’ emergency alert system

Henrico County is implementing a new multi-faceted alert system that will warn residents of emergencies faster than its current system while saving the county about $50,000 a year.

The “Code Red” system, operated by a private company, will be able to send warning messages by phone, text and e-mail countywide or to specific groups of residents in certain geographic areas as warranted, Fire Chief Anthony McDowell told the Board of Supervisors during a work session Nov. 27.

The system will cost Henrico about $53,000 annually – about half of the $102,000 the county had been paying to maintain its existing system each year. Henrico officials have been operating the current system internally since 2007, using county data servers, phone lines and employee time to send phone, text and e-mail alerts as weather and public safety events necessitated, McDowell said.

But the system was becoming costly and inefficient. It had just about outgrown its four servers, which would have necessitated the purchase of new servers at a cost of about $30,000, he said. And reverse 911 calls could take hours to send out to all 132,000 land lines in the county because only 23 lines were available for use (down from 46 originally).

By contracting with Emergency Communications Network, LLC, those problems will be eliminated, McDowell said. The company will host all information on its servers in Florida, with three backup systems in place in other states. Phone calls and text and e-mail alerts will be sent out immediately through dedicated channels, ensuring that the county’s messages won’t have to wait in a queue behind those from other participating jurisdictions.

The Code Red system is able to distribute 50,000 30-second phone messages each hour, McDowell said, meaning that it could contact every Henrico landline in about two and-a-half hours.

Phone messages will only be sent in cases of actual emergencies – such as the potential of life-threatening weather events or when a dangerous criminal is believed to be in the area, County Manager Virgil Hazelett told the board.

Text and e-mail alerts – which citizens must register to receive – may cover a broader range of events, including non-emergency information about traffic, for example. Anyone may opt into the system by registering a phone number or e-mail address at http://www.henricoalert.org.

Henrico officials are hopeful that the Code Red system will be able to identify emergency phone calls as coming from “Henrico Emergency” so that recipients are more likely to answer. But even if they don’t answer, the system will leave its entire message on voice mail, or recipients can dial the number back to hear the message, McDowell said.

The Code Red system uses a database of phone numbers filtered through Verizon’s list of all landlines in the county, so that it will know to call only one number at a business or residence, for example. The system does not include phone numbers established through online providers such as Vonage, but citizens also will be able to opt their phone numbers into the system if they choose.

Code Red also offers a smartphone app for a one-time fee of $5.99 that will provide emergency alerts from any of its participating jurisdictions nationwide, so that a person who travels to another state, for example, could be alerted to emergencies there.

Twenty-five other Virginia localities already use the Code Red system, McDowell said. In Henrico, it will be administered through the Division of Fire and Office of Emergency Management, though other county officials may have the ability to distribute messages.


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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Commonwealth Parenting will present “Fighters, Biters, Pushers & Smushers” for parents of toddlers from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Children’s Museum of Richmond-Short Pump, 2200 Old Brick Rd.… Full text

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