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In the event of an emergency, expect a phone call

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In the event of an emergency, expect a phone call
Rosemount Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

People are used to calling 911 when they have an emergency, but starting next week Dakota County residents can expect the county's emergency dispatch center to return the favor.

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On Sept. 8 the Dakota Communications Center will launch CodeRed, an emergency notification system that can send out telephone, e-mail and text-message notices to warn residents of natural disasters, search-and-rescue operations or any other event dispatchers think the public needs to know about quickly.

The system uses a computer mapping program that allows dispatchers to send warnings to individual cities or neighborhoods or to create notification zones based on the expected spread of a toxic chemical spill or a fire.

"We're really excited. It's just another way of protecting the public," said Kent Therkelsen, the DCC's executive director. "We think it's a nice tool."

Therkelsen said the county's police and firefighters asked for a system like CodeRed even before the DCC opened, but there was no money available for it then. The city of Eagan has a similar system it will retire when CodeRed goes live.

Most of the calls will go out to numbers in the county's 911 database, but with many households abandoning land lines for cell phones -- Therkelsen said something like 17 percent of homes are now wireless only -- the CodeRed system also allows residents to register their cell phones and associate them with an address to receive notifications that way.

The system can also place TTY calls for hearing impaired residents.

There is no way for wired-phone users to opt out of the notifications -- Therkelsen compared it to the old notification system of knocking on doors -- but residents who register their cell phones can remove their numbers later if they choose.

The DCC can also use the system to notify firefighters in the event a city's fire pager system fails.

Response to the CodeRed system varies from place to place. Company representatives told Therkelsen it sees anywhere from one wireless registration for every 10 land lines to a one-to-one ratio.

"I'm guessing it will be fairly high in Dakota County just because people tend to pay attention to this stuff," Therkelsen said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we had 50,000 to 75,000 (registrations)."

The DCC will have a policy in place for choosing what notices to send out. It will mostly be used for situations where residents are in imminent danger, or where there is a missing person and "it would be nice to have a couple hundred extra eyes and ears," Therkelsen said. It could be used for lesser events such as a situation where someone is using a stolen credit card in a series of businesses, but that is not likely to happen often.

"What we want to do is really focus on the more imminent issues where people really need to pay attention," Therkelsen said. "If they get a call from us on the CodeRed system we really want them to sit up and pay attention."

The CodeRed system will not replace the county's existing storm notification sirens -- Therkelsen worries that might just confuse things -- but it could be used after the fact to let people know about shelters.

Therkelsen said the system is ready to go now and could be used in the event of an emergency but it will not officially launch until next week.

For more information or to register go to the DCC web site at www.mn-dcc.org and click on the CodeRed link. If you don't have Internet access, call the DCC at 651-322-8660.

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