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

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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