Cell phone users could be missing out on emergency alerts

If a disaster happens, would emergency officials be able to contact you?

Most counties in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee have a way to contact people in the 911 system through dispatch. In our area many agencies use what's called a CodeRed system, but thousands of people are being left out of the database.

Florence and Marion counties are doing outreach to get more people signed up for CodeRed.

Horry County has just begun updating its system, to give residents more ways to be contacted.

And there's a big sign-up push in Georgetown, where a recent water system emergency showed that not enough people are being reached.

In that incident, a water main broke near a city water tower, leading health officials to issue a boil water advisory.

But after city officials tried to inform people about the advisory through CodeRed, they found out they were reaching only a fraction of the people they needed to contact.

"Getting that information out to our citizens became an issue, to make sure we reached everyone," said Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner.

Tanner explained the problem is that the CodeRed system is based on home phone numbers, and these days, more people are getting rid of their home phones to go cell phone-only.

"If you don't have a landline, you're not in our 911 database, and so you do not get a call," said Cindy Grace, Georgetown county's emergency management coordinator.

Grace says signing up for the CodeRed system on the county's website is fairly easy.

But if you don't have a landline phone, you have to "opt in" and make the effort to sign up, or call emergency management officials and ask them to do it for you.

Grace says county officials originally were concerned that cell phone users who are signed up on a "do not call" list to prevent telemarketers would stop CodeRed alerts. She says they now know that is not true.

But Grace and Tanner say it's critical that cell phone-only users in Georgetown and other counties opt in to CodeRed, or the next time there's a disaster, they could be left out.

"So we want to get direct information out through our media sources, social media as well, and through this CodeRed operation, so you get exactly what we're trying to say," said Tanner.

Less than one-fourth of all Georgetown county residents are in the code red database.

The city of Georgetown is sending out notices to all water utility customers, to push them to sign up.

Horry County officials also encourage residents to sign up for CodeRed here.