Saskatoon launches citywide "Notify Now" emergency alerts

Officials have a new way of sending Saskatoon residents alerts and hope to get at least 60 per cent of people in the city on board.

Subscribers notified of emergencies in texts, e-mails or voicemail

Saskatoon hopes to get more than 60 per cent of people in the city signed up for city-wide emergency alerts.

The mayor joined Saskatoon's fire chief, and emergency planners Monday in launching the new "Notify Now" system. The city and several other agencies spent $35,000 on the software, designed to send residents up-to-the-minute alerts.
"Anyone can sign up on the city's website," noted Ray Unrau, Saskatoon's Director of Emergency Planning. (CBC)

Ray Unrau, Saskatoon's Director of Emergency Planning, said it's meant for "recurring or escalating situations that can affect public safety."

He said NotifyNow is an ideal way to transmit information quickly during events including snowstorms, hazardous material spills, or mass evacuations.

Its launch comes two months after residents criticized city officials for not providing up-to-date information during a Sunday evening power outage that knocked out electricity for thousands of people during some of this winter's coldest weather. Officials said the system would also have assisted during a severe blizzard in 2007.

Subscribers wanted

The city has added 79,000 phone numbers listed in this year's SaskTel white pages to its automated system, which can send out voice-mails. But officials say thousands more people are more likely to see a text message or an e-mail in an emergency.
Saskatoon fire chief Dan Paulsen said older areas where most residents have landlines are already in the NotifyNow system. (CBC)

"Now we need to get people to come on board," said fire chief Dan Paulsen. "Many people aren't even in the phone books. So I mean these are just different ways that we can actually communicate to individuals. Whether they're at home or not."

During sign-up, subscribers are asked what communication method they prefer to use.

NotifyNow subscribers are also asked to give the City of Saskatoon their address. Officials say in the event of a localized emergency, such as a chemical spill, or a power outage, they can send targeted messages to subscribers in specific neighbourhoods.

The software also allows emergency officials to track the number of subscribers who've received and opened the message, and plan accordingly.

Unrau said residents can expect a citywide test of NotifyNow during the month of May.