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Pittsburgh May Hire Contractor to Launch, Manage Emergency Alert System

If City Council passes the necessary legislation, Pittsburgh would hire a company to set up and manage an emergency alert system for its residents rather than build the system itself.  The Alert system would have the capability to send out mass phone calls, emails, and text messages.

Sponsoring Councilman Corey O'Connor said the new alert system probably would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 each year, depending on the number of city residents who sign up for the alerts and the level of competition in the bidding process.

"For the first 5,000 dollars they could set up the system, and then every resident that picks up on that or wants to join, it would be a dollar after that," said O'Connor. "So, you're not looking at an extreme cost unless every resident in the city gets it. Then we're at 300,000. So, we have to be smart when we pick the RFP [request for proposals] to keep costs as low as possible."

The city doesn't have the staff or infrastructure to run such a large emergency alert system on its own, according to City Information Systems Acting Director Tajuana Stephenson. She said the email component alone would overwhelm the city's computer system.

"We also would have to have that server be able to deliver not only email messages, but text messages as well, and dialing telephones," said Stephenson. "We are not at that technology yet."

Currently, Pittsburgh's only alert system consists of mass emails exclusive to city employees, and O'Connor noted that practice began just three years ago when Pittsburgh hosted the 2009 G-20 Summit.

Not only would the new alert system cover widespread disasters like snowstorms and hurricanes, but very localized hazards as well.

"There was flooding on [Route] 51, or even in Hays there was flooding a couple months ago, and even the Squirrel Hill Tunnels caught on fire," said O'Connor. "It's nice to give that type of information out to the residents so that they can avoid a dangerous or hazardous area."

If the bill is passed, O'Connor said the city would recruit users for the alert system at senior centers and through citywide mailings.