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

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.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

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

Weekend Top 10


This weekend has something for everyone in your family – whether it’s improv comedy with ComedySportz or West End Comedy, or an inspirational concert from the Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company! Families will also enjoy music, games and crafts at Hidden Creek Park or reading to a therapy dog at Glen Allen Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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