Reverse 911, a system that allows police and fire departments to phone homes and businesses that are at risk during an emergency, is coming to the Valley
The $2.5 million system will serve the more than 3 million residents of Maricopa County, making it the largest system in the nation.
It should begin operating by the end of April, said Jeff Mirasola, a spokesman for Qwest Communications.
Reverse 911 allows emergency workers to send English and Spanish messages to all phones in an area. It could contain lifesaving information, such as requests to evacuate or remain inside.
"Like a good insurance policy, it’s there if you need it but you hope you don’t have to use it very often," said Patrick Gibbons, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
Police and fire departments could use it in a storm, chemical spill, gas-line break, hostage situation or other problems where authorities need to quickly spread information.
Authorities may instruct people to stay put if a chemical or armed person could harm those who go outside. Or they may urge people to evacuate to a safer place.
The system can call up to 2,000 phones per minute, including TDD lines for the hearing impaired. It will not include cell phones.
Police have used reverse 911 in other communities to evacuate neighborhoods in storms or to warn them of a criminal targeting an area.
Officials are still discussing who can authorize calls, what the messages should say and when a situation warrants a call, said Bob Kahn, an assistant Phoenix fire chief who is trying to boost public knowledge of reverse 911. Authorities want to ensure they don’t use it too frequently.
"You hate to have it be a cry wolf situation, where you say this is a reverse 911, it looks like it’s cloudy today," Kahn said.
Another concern is people may hang up when they hear a recorded voice. Authorities hope a public education effort will combat that.
The system is being paid for by a $2.5 million settlement from the TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Division. It agreed to pay the money in January 2001 after violating hazardous waste laws.