When lightning struck the MarkWest gas processing plant on Western Avenue (Route 519) in Chartiers Township May 28, township police and other personnel went door to door within a two-mile radius to ask residents to evacuate their homes.
In the few hours after the evacuation, residents peppered township officials with questions about what was going on and when they could return to their homes.
But thanks to a new system purchased in June, residents can be notified of an emergency in a matter of minutes and they can stay up-to-date with the latest information by calling a hotline number.
In June, the supervisors authorized the purchase of the Swift911 system to notify residents of anything from emergencies to road closures. They even tested the system by letting residents know of an upcoming event at the park.
While known landlines of every resident were put into the system, residents who have unlisted numbers or who rely on cellphones instead of home telephones are being asked to register their numbers with the township.
“We had started looking at getting such a system late last year and had included it in the budget for this year,” said Jodi Noble, township manager. “But the events of May 28 really confirmed the need for it.”
Noble said the system can alert residents via home phone, cellphone, text message and email.
“The entire township can be contacted within five minutes,” Noble said. “We can also isolate areas or neighborhoods if only certain areas are affected.”
“The alert also includes a number for a hotline where residents can hear messages and updates with the most recent information,” she added. “But so many people no longer have landlines, that is why we are asking them to register their cellphones.”
Township police Chief James Horvath said it is the fastest, most effective way to contact township residents and alert them to an emergency. During the May 28 emergency, some residents came up to police and were advised to leave even before the decision was made to evacuate the immediate area. Emergency officials then went door-to-door.
“Even with this alert system, we will probably still go door to door,” Horvath said. “But that is time-consuming and takes a lot of manpower.”
Horvath said it is imperative for every resident to register their numbers for the system to work.
“Experience is the best teacher,” he added. “We learned some things that we could do better that day.”
Horvath said the hotline will be a bonus in keeping residents informed of the situation.
Both Noble and Horvath assured residents that the information is strictly for use by the township in the event of an incident. There is also a disclaimer indicating the numbers will not be released to third parties.
Noble said the township has already received positive feedback about the system from residents who were called with information about a recent concert in the park as a test of the system. During a recent picnic hosted by MarkWest for residents in the area of the plant, the township also handed out information sheets about the alert program.
The alert system can be used to advise residents of other problems, like a road closure, or remind them during winter months not to park on the street during a snowstorm so township trucks can get through.
“But for the system to be effective, we need to know how to contact the residents,” Noble added.
Horvath offered to help residents with registration.
“This is for our community,” he said. “I hope the residents do their part by signing up. I know I will be telling my family to register.”
Step-by-step directions to register are on the township’s website at www.chartierstwp.com. Township officials will also be at the township’s Public Safety Day from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 7 at the township fire department, 2450 W. Pike St., to help residents register their telephone numbers.