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System ready to WARN

Automated calls alert residencies to emergencies, dangers
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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When Bettamae Butts received a call last week that an escaped jail inmate was lurking in the area, one of the first things she did was go to the window. “I wanted to see what I could see,” Butts said. “I wanted to be helpful.” The Auburn resident was one of many who was reached by the county’s Wide Area Rapid Notification system. WARN is a regional system that can be used by all Placer County law agencies as well as fire departments, the office of education and the office of emergency services, according to Jeff Ausnow, Placer County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The county first used it in July 2008, after replacing the previous emergency alert system, which was slower and older, Ausnow said. The new system is Web-based so it allows for more calls in a “very short period of time,” Ausnow said. WARN utilizes a list of telephone numbers and addresses from the phone company. Officials can pinpoint a geographic area, then type in a message that a computer automated voice will read to residents. Ausnow said the system is used for a variety of purposes including missing persons, fire evacuations, snow days and more. The system was also used to alert residents and schools last week when a Placer County Jail inmate escaped Wednesday. The inmate was captured the same day. “It’s a really great system for us to get information out rapidly and reach a lot of people at one time,” Ausnow said. Ausnow added that Placer County is the only county statewide that shares a common system. He said it allows those who use the system – police, sheriff’s and fire departments as well as the Office of Emergency Services and the Office of Education – to help one another. “Any of the agencies could put out announcement for us and we can put out announcements for them,” Ausnow said. Butts said soon after she received the automated call from the Sheriff’s Office, she called her friends and neighbors. She said she stayed indoors while the search was going on. “When they tell you an inmate has escaped from the jail, one of the first things you want to do is lock your doors,” Butts said. Butts said she appreciated a second call from the system to let her know the inmate had been captured. She added that she was surprised yet apprecaiteive of another call two days later when search teams were looking for a 71-year-old Auburn woman. “I’ve never received a call before and then to get two calls in two days – I felt pretty good about it,” Butts said. “I think it’s marvelous.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.