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Editorial: New way to notify

Quick response is especially important in an emergency. Quick notification has come to be expected when there are new developments about most anything.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department is continuing to serve the public interest by introducing an emergency notification system for the county. The system will make it possible for county residents and business owners to get information fast and accurately.

It's just the latest example of the department having the public's well-being in mind when it comes to communications. When 911 calling to dispatch came on the scene, not only did sheriff's officials arrange for Pierce to be included early on, but went with an enhanced version for locating call origins. Now that cell phones have become common, they've implemented a modern method of pinpointing those callers, too.

The emergency notification system will mean a school in the county can notify thousands of parents instantly if there's a broken water main, for example, or some other reason to issue a widespread alert. Parents are to be notified first, by their landline phone; if that doesn't work, attempts by cell phone, e-mail, text and fax follow until confirmation is received. Any area would benefit from this kind of capability, but Pierce's proximity to the Prairie Island Nuclear Plant outside of Red Wing is additional cause to have it available.

Cities will be able use the newest system, too. The City of River Falls ordered massive water conservation during a dry weather spell last year and could have taken advantage of it, had it been offered then, for instance. That city's situation as home to a University of Wisconsin campus raises an issue about assuring the system's effectiveness, however.

Many college students only have cell phones, no landline phone numbers. So the emergency notification effort could miss them and anyone else in the county without a landline phone. That's because officials are relying on their 911 database to access residents' landline numbers. Residents just using cell phones are asked to provide the county with those numbers, promised the numbers won't be given out and there won't be any charge for local calls over the system, just like regular phone calls.

Xcel Energy, the City of River Falls and UW-River Falls, which have funded the program along with Pierce County, should also be commended for their support. Law enforcement and medical personnel, besides educators, have participated in the planning. The result is good for the average citizen.