Corrected web address for New York Alert

Madison County accidentally saved more than $65,000 this year. After years of trying to find a reasonably priced reverse 911 system to notify county residents of emergencies, Joe DeFrancisco said the state's existing free system has expanded.

New York Alert, which has been around for some time, received additional funding from Homeland Security in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy. DeFrancisco, emergency preparedness coordinator for the county, said the money allowed the state to purchase 10 times the amount of equipment it originally had. That expansion, he said, will allow it to serve many more people.

New York Alert can notify people of a host of emergency conditions, from weather warnings to evacuation orders, DeFrancisco said. The problem is many people don't have home telephones or Internet service in Madison County.

"So many people are not using landlines anymore," DeFrancisco said. "There's really no comprehensive way of notifying them of an emergency, short of driving through those areas with a bullhorn."

People are connected to the world through their cell phones, DeFrancisco said, and his office is working on coordinating a massive outreach and education program to get people to sign up for the free service and capture that cell phone information.

"We need to put people in public places with laptops to collect that data," DeFrancisco said. "We're getting as many [911 center calls from] cell phone calls as landline calls."

He said a similar initiative in Broome County netted 21,000 voluntary signups.

"Obviously, that's a bigger county, but it can be used as a gauge," DeFrancisco said.

Those interested in signing up for alerts can visit NYAlert.gov, DeFrancisco said, and follow the online directions.

"It will walk you through the process of registering your cell phone," DeFrancisco said, "and you can choose how you want to get alerts: cell phone, landline, fax, text message or e-mail."

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