NORTH STONINGTON — For members of the Board of Selectmen, keeping citizens informed of community initiatives and other important news can be a daunting task in the small, rural town. A new initiative hopes to make alerting residents as easy as sending a single message.
North Stonington has implemented a non-emergency alert system that is free for residents and will provide opportunities to receive a call, text or email for a wide range of happenings around town from notice of town meetings, referendums and polling information on election day to events such as road closures or parades. Receiving the notice is simple and can be done in just a few minutes online.
The alert system went live on Monday with a message sent to early registrants about the town meeting that was held Tuesday night, and First Selectman Michael Urgo said the trial run went without a hitch.
"Since I've been on the board, communication has been something that all of the selectmen have been on board with," Urgo said. "People communicate in many different ways whether by phone calls, emails or texts, and this will be another great way to stay informed alongside weekly updates, social media and newspapers, among other ways."
The non-emergency system was purchased late last month following unanimous approval from both selectmen and Board of Finance members. The system software is provided and serviced by mass notification specialist Everbridge, an industry leader in mass notification systems, and is an extension of the town's emergency alert system that is sometimes referred to as Reverse 9-1-1.
The package, which cost an estimated $6,000 and was funded through the town's share of the American Rescue Plan Act funds, will remain active for three years, at which time officials said those elected would be charged with determining whether it would be beneficial to continue to fund the system through the town's annual budget.
Urgo and Selectmen Bob Carlson said this week that the initiative is part of an ongoing, four-year effort to enhance communication with residents. Carlson said it will potentially allow the board to reach residents who were previously slow to receive information by word of mouth or other means.
"It is a struggle at times for elected officials to reach the people in a rural town like ours," said Carlson, who is running unopposed and will take over as first selectmen following the November election.
"There are many families, good families, who go to work each day and drive home at night to have dinner and sit by the fire or whatever they enjoy doing while being left alone, then wake up and do it again the next day," he said. "They aren't going out of their way to figure out when a town meeting might be or the day-to-day operations of the town. That doesn't mean they don't have an interest and we need to get that information to them."
Reaching these individuals is important in increasing community participation, and both Carlson and Urgo said the system will allow officials to keep them informed without needing to use staff hours and with little disruption to the residents themselves.
Messages will not be frequent as to not inundate people, Urgo said, and will seek to focus on important events such as a town meeting where residents may be invited to vote, referendums or elections, and road closures or non-emergency matters such as a parade that would impact traffic.
Both Urgo and Carlson assured that the system would not be used for partisan purposes or be used as a political medium for any candidates, officials or party. Each said they would be in favor of developing a policy or proposing changes to the code of ethics as necessary if that ever became a concern.
"This will be operated with strict guidelines that it remains neutral," Carlson said. "It cannot be used for political messaging, and as a board, we will need to keep an open dialogue to make sure it is only used properly."
To sign up to receive non-emergency alerts from North Stonington, visit member.everbridge.net/index/1691190617440260/#/signup. For more information on the system, visit www.everbridge.com.