City’s alert system undergoing improvements

The director of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management readily admitted their notification system needs improvements after some were alerted hours after last week’s water boil advisory was issued, May 28, 2014. (KOIN 6)
The director of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management readily admitted their notification system needs improvements after some were alerted hours after last week’s water boil advisory was issued, May 28, 2014. (KOIN 6)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The director of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management readily admitted their notification system needs improvements after some were alerted hours after last week’s water boil advisory was issued.

“I think we could do a better job of getting the information out a little bit quicker,” said Director of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management Carmen Merlo when asked what the bureau learned from last Friday’s delayed water boil advisory notification.

Across the board, those involved in the notification process said changes are needed.

“Well there are a number of things we are going to be looking at and working on,” said Portland Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff.

When positive E.coli tests required the city to let everyone know they needed to boil their water, the first problem became apparent immediately.

The Portland Water Bureau said 200,000 people attempted to access the boil area map, causing the Water Bureau’s website to crash. The technology services staff is currently working on a fix to ensure a crash does not occur again in an emergency situation.

Another potential issue was the reverse call alert that the city leaned on to get word out. Merlo said it took four and half hours to call 461,000 lines.

“That’s not bad. We think we can do better,” said Merlo.

In order to streamline the process, Merlo said the bureau is “trying to scrub the records” that they have.

Merlo explained that the bureau is currently going through the phone lines to make sure they’re not wasting time calling multiple lines at the same address.

For example, they may be wasting time sending the alert recording to several dozen phone lines at the same business when they should be making one call and moving on.

The bureau also admitted it had a problem getting the message to non-English speakers.

“I can’t say this enough: we need to do a better job of making sure our emergency messages are translated into several languages,” said Merlo.

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