When power went out in portions of Metropolis around 11 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, Micah Tolbert knew what was going to happen. He’s seen it too many times.
Emergency service offices around the county were bombarded with calls as residents wanted the answer to the same three questions: Is the power out? Why is the power out? When will it come back on?
Meanwhile, as personnel answered those questions, their switchboards lit up. And one of those calls could have been a life-threatening emergency.
Tolbert, the city’s fire chief and emergency management director, had the opportunity that night to officially initiate a new notification system as Everbridge made its debut in Massac County.
“Through the use of the Everbridge application, Massac County and Metropolis residents are able to obtain essential information in a timely and effective manner,” said Brian Horn, Massac County Emergency Management Agency director.
Everbridge is a mass community notification system to help public authorities “better communicate with the public in an emergency incident. If we feel like there’s something going on in the community the public needs to know about rapidly, we can alert them through this system,” Tolbert said.
Metropolis Ward 4 alderman Chad Lewis first brought up the idea for a notification system shortly after he was first elected in 2017.
“I quickly noticed a communication barrier between the city and its citizens. I knew there was a simple and affordable solution,” he said.
“I had become familiar with a simple texting application in years past that was utilized to communicate directly to a specific audience. A message could be immediately sent directly from your phone. The communication was quick, informative and everyone who had opted in received it. After presenting this to the council, I was approached by Keith Davis regarding the Everbridge system.”
At the time, Davis was the city’s emergency management director and “we had been looking for a notification system to replace the one 911 had purchased. I told (Lewis) that 911 was looking at Everbridge. He took a look at it, they did a demo for him, he liked it and took it to the city council.”
The council approved, purchased the system and “for some reason, it never got completed,” said Don Canada, who was a Ward 2 alderman at the time.
So when Canada was elected mayor in 2021, enacting the Everbridge program was one of the things he wanted to do. He asked Tolbert to take it over.
“We’re hoping when this is up and running whoever’s in charge can blast a message out so people don’t have to call (emergency services),” Canada said. “We want to be proactive in getting them the information.”
Everbridge is a subscription service that can be signed up for at no cost via the company’s website or by downloading the mobile app. To create an account, subscribers supply their name, user name and password, location information and contact information.
The direct website link for Metropolis and Massac County is https://member.everbridge.net/307455233884223/new.
However, Tolbert recommends users download the mobile app. After downloading, the system will ask for an organization — the keyword is Metropolis or Massac and the correct organization is Metropolis Massac Notify Now. “Be sure to click ‘allow’ for notifications, fill out the registration, hit accept and you’re done,” he said. Tolbert shared he looks almost daily for new subscribers to send them a test to make sure they’ve signed up properly.
Subscribers can put in three forms of contact to receive the notification via a phone call, email or text.
“The way the system is set up, you can prioritize how you want to be notified — a phone call first, a text second, an email third,” Tolbert explained. “The phone call will show the fire station’s number. If you don’t answer or click confirm, in about three minutes it will trigger to the next notification. If you don’t confirm at all, we’ll get a message that it’s been delivered, but unconfirmed. We can resend the same message to people who didn’t confirm.”
Tolbert emphasized that notifications may also include messages with the alert, such as instructions on how to proceed with a boil water order.
Subscribers can also register multiple addresses to receive notifications about. “If they have a parent or loved one who doesn’t have computer or cell phone access or lives elsewhere, they can sign up that address to get a notification and pass on the information to them,” Tolbert said.
The system also has the ability to pinpoint specific locations and customize the messages based on a residence. That’s one aspect that sets the system apart, noted Davis, who is now the city’s part-time deputy director of emergency management. However, Tolbert noted, that feature is only available through the app, which is different from the regular notification.
“With the mobile app, if there’s an event or incident that’s located in a particular area and affects only that area, we can initiate an alert for that area,” Tolbert said.
“If you live outside that location, you won’t get the alert. But if you have the mobile application and you enter that location based on your phone’s location data, an alert will be triggered. It could be anything from a gas leak, chemical spill, fire, boil water order, electric outage. If you’re out or your home’s registered in that location, you’ll get the alert.”
In addition, those with the app who are in the area of a notification can submit a photo. Tolbert used the example of a wreck. If the alert message requests a photo, subscribers can take them and they’re sent directly to the system.
Along with receiving essential information about their home area, residents can use the app as they travel around the globe. Tolbert said if the area is an Everbridge system user, users can change their location information to receive updates on that location.
Tolbert will also be working with the Massac County Sheriff’s Department and Massac County Emergency Management Agency to relay their important messages to residents.
“The system will greatly benefit all of Massac County,” said Sheriff Chad Kaylor. “We can get the word out to more people quickly if we need to. It will definitely be helpful in the event of a disaster or chemical spill.”
Now, all that needs to be done is for residents to sign up. Tolbert emphasized that anyone living in Massac County can subscribe.
“When the power went out (March 13), I didn’t have a good idea of the areas affected in the city, so I was able to go in and drag a circle around the bulk of the city, type out the message and hit send,” he said.
“When I did that, it told me 71 subscribers were in the area at the time — 37 confirmed (receipt of the notification), nine went late and 25 didn’t confirm receipt. It was delivered to every registered user in that captured location. About half confirmed — not what I would like, but it did go out to people.”
There are at least 196 Everbridge subscribers in the county.
“It’s a good program and will work for people if they sign up,” Canada said.
Tolbert also addressed Facebook comments about data and location tracking. “We’re not tracking locations, messages, phone calls or anything of that nature. It’s extremely private and secure,” he said.
In addition, “we won’t bombard you with junk or spam. If it’s an incident we feel the public really needs to know about, we’ll send that out,” he said.
“Everyone is constantly bombarded with so much information today, it can become difficult to keep up with,” Lewis said.
“Knowing the City of Metropolis has the best interest of its citizens along with this powerful communication tool will help us reach more areas of our community, especially during a critical event. I would highly encourage everyone in the City of Metropolis and surrounding area to stay informed by opting in.”
Questions about Everbridge and subscribing to it can be directed at Tolbert via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Signup information is also available on the fire department’s Facebook page.
“I encourage people to get signed up and get registered,” Tolbert said.
“This can alleviate — and hopefully eliminate — some of the burden on the dispatchers at the fire department, police department, sheriff’s department from getting phone calls during incidents like a power outage. They’re already fielding tons of phone calls and dealing with emergencies that may be going on, ambulance calls, working an incident — the last thing they need to be doing is answering phone calls of the power being out.”