Emergency services protocol in Yellowstone County

Emergency alert notifications are under scrutiny following a mistaken alert issued in Hawaii over the weekend.

KULR-8's Mary Jane Belleza took a look at the EAS system in place for Yellowstone county to find out what  protocols are in place to keep people safe.

There are 24 outdoor alert sirens in Yellowstone county, with 17 of those sirens are in the Billings and Lockwood area. 

"It's a radio signal link between the dispatch centers that control them and the actual siren that go off," said Yellowstone County DES Director Brad Shoemaker

It's old school tech, but Shoemaker says it's secure.

"So we have two redundant places in each, so the laurel dispatch center and the county dispatch center where we can fully control the sirens that if they were to turn off or on or anything," adds Shoemaker.

Two sites with an invisible radio signal between them and the only way to access this tech?

Well you need to have the password.

Communication center manager Anne Kindness from dispatch said the process to set off an alert goes through very different procedures. 

"For example an area close to a refinery, there may be an issue with emissions," said Kindness. "We would want to notify that neighborhood that there was a problem in there area and when the sirens go off we ask people to shelter in place, turn on the media and wait for information."

Still, the system is aging an Shoemaker said early plans are in the works to bring a 21st century system into place.

The department of emergency services wants to install I-PAWS, an integrated public alert warning system owned by FEMA and operated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The initial process for the memorandum of understanding is getting squared away with FEMA.

Shoemaker expects the process to take up to six months after the memorandum of understanding period. 

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