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Huntington app to help in event of disaster

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The gears of Huntington city employees have been turning for about a year and a half.

And that brain power has led the city to one of the first-of-its-kind Apple and Android applications.

"Heads Up Huntington" is a free app providing users with critical information in the event of emergency or disaster.

Scott Lemley, criminal intelligence analyst with the Huntington Police Department, and Rodney Pell, administrative officer, said the concept behind the app they helped develop is for the city to have a type of system of information.

The app launched in early November and is available to the public through Google Play or Apple's app store. It was a collaborative effort involving the city of Huntington, Huntington Police Department, Mountain State Computer and Networking Solutions and the Cabell-Wayne Homeland Security Committee.

Alerts for disaster

Emergency officials can send the alerts using a scale of one through five, with one being a low-level incident and five being a major disaster.

"We have a set goal within our operations in the city of Huntington to set a standard of accomplishment that others throughout the nation will choose to follow," Mayor Steve Williams said. "The application is a formidable example of how our community can lead the nation in innovative solutions."

Huntington Police Chief W.H. "Skip" Holbrook said the two city employees were instrumental in developing the application.

"When they brought this to me I thought it was a terrific idea," he said. "It fit well with our philosophy (and) strong reputation (for) being collaborative in how we approach public safety."

The response to state, county and city officials working together was tremendous, the chief said.

Everyone agreed the app could be a strong, valuable tool for many other cities in the state and possibly country.

The app currently is helpful to any resident of Cabell and Wayne counties. 

Application logistics

"Scott and I were sitting in the office one day and came up with (the) idea," Pell said. "We thought it would be a great asset for the community to have this type of tool."

The building of the app stood on four main philosophies: decrease panic, decrease the overburden on resources, increase resiliency and increase preparedness.

The pair met with a variety of companies in town until deciding to move forward in the process. Pell took on the roll of project manager while Lemley assisted. Pell said it essentially was a team of about 10-12 people.

With the help of the board of education, gas companies, police and fire departments, as well as organizations and businesses from throughout the city, the program became successful.

"That collaboration was what truly put this program in a class in itself," Pell said.

Helpful advantage

The point of the app is to give real-time information to county residents. 

"Not relying on any type of third party entity," Pell said of the app. "It makes for a more rapid response."

If there is a wreck on the interstate, road closure, school closures, everything will be sent as a notification through the app. The user can gear the app toward what he or she wants to see. 

For example, if a particular user doesn't have school-aged children and school delays or closures don't affect him, he doesn't have to get those notifications, the pair explained.

"Sometimes (there is) a lag with social and local media," Pell added. "The app is user-friendly and customizable."

And don't worry about getting those notifications twice. If there is a road closure because of a fire, the notification will only come across once rather than a blast of information from both the city and fire department. Those entities will work together to put the information out there as a team, the creators said.

Why now?

Lemley said the app's existence is in large part due to the June 2012 derecho. Through training, about 90 individuals are certified to send out the notifications, he said.

"The health department, police, board of education, sheriff's office, state police, federal, municipal, county (agencies), everyone is inputting this information," he said. "This is how people are communicating."

The application can tell the public, should the power go out for several days again, where to get ice, where to get oxygen, what is open and where to seek shelter in the event of disaster.
Lemley said although social media is a great tool, some of the information put out on those platforms is not always reliable. With the app, residents can get notifications and instantly share those on their social media
feeds.

Other state systems

Two Kanawha County communities have been using a system called Nixle to communicate emergencies via text message.

St. Albans and Nitro police departments launched the system in July 2012 after the derecho.

The free service also sends the messages out on the police department Facebook and Twitter feeds.

To receive the messages from the St. Albans PD text SAPOLICE to 888777 and to receive the Nitro PD alerts text nitrowvpd to 888777. The Nitro PD also has a Facebook page.

The West Virginia State Police announced Dec. 23 the launch of an application. The app will include the agency Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as a few other communication enhancements.

The free app will allow users to access the State Police Facebook and Twitter sites, website, sex offender registry, detachment information and numerous other features.

Amber and Silver alerts as well as major criminal incidents will be sent out as notifications. Visit the Apple store or Google Plan and search "WV State Police" to get the app.

"This smartphone app offers many features, which I believe will come in handy to anyone living in or traveling throughout our state," WVSP Col. C.R. "Jay" Smithers said in a news release. "Just remember, if you are taking advantage of this service while driving a vehicle, please either pull off the side of the road and utilize the app or have a passenger access it for you. 

"This is a new work in progress, and we encourage the public to offer up suggestions for improvement."

The Ravenswood Police Department offers text alerts as well. Text 26164 to 888777 to sign up to receive the alerts. 

Other police departments across the state offer ways to communicate online with anonymous tips. The Parkersburg Police Department website, pkbpolice.com, allows visitors to leave tips about crime. 

The Wood County Sheriff's Department has a Facebook page and encourages individuals to stay informed, but reminds them to use the tool as just that. The administrators of the site post press releases and daily citations, but encourage residents to send private messages or call about ongoing police investigations. 

The Morgantown Police Department also handles a Facebook page, breaking news and road or store closures are posted.