When a 13-year-old boy was reported missing in Miles Township on Wednesday, the Centre County Office of Emergency Services was prepared.
“It was almost like another day at work for most of those professionals involved,” Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Wharran said. “God bless the volunteers and the Amish community that came out because it was one of their own.”
Firemen and other law officials began the search, but it was Wharran and his department that called for the search and rescue team, along with the bloodhound team, that helped search for the boy.
“Things are pretty well covered,” Wharran said. “Nobody is just winging it. There is a system in place.”
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The system, commonly known as CodeRED, is a free mass notification system to which citizens can subscribe to receive emergency notifications by phone, text or email. The system can be used for evacuations, boil water notices, active shooters, statewide emergency declarations and several other emergencies.
Centre County is not the only county using the system. On Friday, Clinton County announced the implementation of CodeRED.
“CodeRED’s robust notification system will provide Clinton County officials with a reliable, easy-to-use interface to quickly deliver critical information to our citizens during emergencies. We are eager to use this innovative technology to enhance our emergency preparedness plans,” said Clinton’s Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Frantz.
So just how does it work?
An officer in command, like Wharran, would request a 911 dispatch supervisor to launch an alert before selecting a specific area to send the alert to.
“It is amazing technology that they have now,” Wharran said. “People don’t use TV or radio like they used to, but everyone uses a cell phone. The most effective way to get to people is cell phones these days.”
Every municipality is required to have an emergency management coordinator by law, but the coordinator does not have to fill that role in a full-time capacity, according to Wharran.
Wharran, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked with Pennsylvania state police for 22 years, said he is confident in the systems that are in place, but one challenge his department faces is the unpredictable emergencies. He cited an EF1 tornado in Centre County last May.
“Things like tornadoes aren’t easily predictable. Last year we knew it was windy and stormy, but nobody knew it would be that bad,” Wharran said. “We ended up with about 50 percent of customers out of service. Power was out for almost a week in a few locations. Entire townships from Boalsburg to Penns Valley were wiped out power-wise.”
Tornadoes, as with most emergencies, are rarely predictable, but Wharran believes his department is as well-prepared as possible.
“You can be confident that there are many things in place to make sure that emergencies are handled,” Wharran said.