Asst. to Editor
Some Africans have had congo drums, Native Americans, smoke signals, and Altus has Blackboard.
We interviewed Emergency Management Director, Lloyd Colston to find out more about the Blackboard communication system.
Altus Times: How long have we been using Blackboard?
Lloyd Colston: We started using it June 16, 2009.
AT: What kinds of notifications can it be used for?
LC: Blackboard participants can expect text messages and/or email for weather impacting Jackson County. We have also used Blackboard to alert residents of dangerous criminal activity in an area, notifying of utility outages, including water and electricity.
Blackboard is also used internally for city departments to communicate with their workers. For example, the Fire Department replaced their pager system with Blackboard and use the system to inform the fire fighters of meetings and emergency recall notices.
Also, the City saves money and time by contacting customers who have not paid their utility bills about potential action regarding their utilities.
AT: How do people apply to receive Blackboard notifications?
LC: Those who wish to be notified by the City of Altus for weather alerts, City events, criminal activity and more, can register online at tinyurl.com/alertaltus. Registering this way allows the participants to manage their own contact email, and phone numbers.
AT: Does that web site cover everything?
LC: If the person wants severe weather alerts in text or email, they can email me at “email@example.com”.
AT: You’ve mentioned texting, emailing, and calling. Do participants have to choose one way to receive notifications or are many possible?
LC: Participants may receive notifications at up to three phones, four emails and one cell phone per individual. If two people live at the same address and they need notifications sent to more numbers, then the couple should register as individuals. Because text messaging is only available for one account, unless the user knows the email address for their phone, then each cell phone would register as an individual account.
AT: Since Altus had Blackboard during the Ice Storm, did it work without electricity?
LC: During the Ice Storm, Matt Coppock did a GREAT job keeping the residents informed using this valuable tool. Lessons learned from the Ice Storm were that residents who did not have a corded landline phone or a working cellular telephone with a charged battery got all kinds of calls made to those non-functioning devices. If the resident does not insure their cell phone is not charged, the calls will go to voicemail and the text will store on the server for a period until the phone comes back to life again. For those who use cordless phones in their homes, those devices rely on electricity to work. If there is no electricity, the phone will not work.
AT: Blackboard can be specifically applied to one neighborhood or go community wide, right?
LC: We can target a message to an individual resident, exclude the individual resident and contact the neighbors within an 1/8th mile zone, draw shapes on maps to alert everyone inside or outside the shape, or do a system wide call. AT: Can people who live in the County can get Blackboard calls?
LC: Definitely! There are some in other States who get informed because they don’t want their elderly family member bothered with a call. During the Ice Storm, I remember a fellow from Dallas who signed up because his loved one in Blair was not getting information.