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Franklin council wants answers, assurances about emergency warning system

Tornado notifications deactivated during November storm

Dec. 6, 2013

Franklin — To alert residents to the tornado warning Nov. 17, Franklin's weather sirens wailed. Smart phones warned their owners. And the city's $9,600 emergency notification system did nothing.

The system, designed to alert registered individuals to all emergency situations, had been deactivated.

Inspiron Logistics, the system's operator, is used by corporations, college campuses and government entities throughout the country.

The automated system is meant to alert individuals to public safety and health concerns through phone calls, text messages, emails and social media networks.

But Nov. 17, Franklin residents who registered for the alerts did not receive them.

System deactivation

The deactivation dates back to this summer, when the notification system was turned off for a state-issued tornado drill April 18.

"They (Inspiron Logistics) were asked to deactivate (the notifications) and then reactivate them a few hours later," said Mark Luberda, director of administration for Franklin. "They did the first step, but not the second."

Scott Dettling, president of Inspiron Logistics, said there was "miscommunication between the city and the company."

"The system worked exactly the way it was supposed to," Dettling said. "There was no malfunction. ... We deactivated (the notifications) for that mock tornado warning ... and it was just not reactivated.

"It's unfortunate because we've had such a successful history with the city. It has worked perfectly."

Needing assurances

The city implemented Inspiron Logistics' notification system in 2010 at an annual cost of $9,600, Luberda said.

Mayor Tom Taylor said about 3,000 residents have registered for the notifications.

And although the city received few calls from concerned residents, the Common Council expressed its discontent during a closed session meeting Dec. 3.

"I thought it was such a serious issue that the agreement should be terminated immediately," Taylor said the next day. "The city has paid a lot of money to be ensured that when there's a severe storm like that, the notification system will work perfectly. The situation has to be fail-safe. You don't get two tries (at saving lives)."

Other city officials agreed with Taylor that the matter needed to be addressed.

"One of the keys to creating a reliable public safety notification system is to build in a multi-faceted approach that includes more than one means of delivering the notification to the public," said Alderman Dan Mayer, who serves as the president of the Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs as well as Cudahy's fire chief and emergency management director. "By having more than one means of getting the message out, we ensure that there is a backup for each type of notification.

He called the dropped calls "a very serious matter," but Mayer also noted that there is much more to the system that's worthwhile.

"Correction must be guaranteed in order to ensure the reliability of the whole system, but it is only one leg in a multi-faceted system, and the aforementioned backups are in place," he said. "The call system is still a valuable part of the overall system and, as it is enhanced, it will add an even greater level of reliability to the overall system, making our community even safer."

After lengthy deliberation in closed session, the council voted to request an audience with Dettling or a designee of Inspiron Logistics at a future meeting for assurances that the notification system will continue to work appropriately.

Learn more

■ For information about the notification system, visit www.FranklinWI.gov.

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