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New technology delivers safety alerts faster

By ANDREA FURLONG

The City of Williamsburg has launched a new community information service that can provide citizens with immediate notifications of public safety threats, road conditions, school cancellations and more.

Nixle is a messaging service that is free to community organizations and the people who sign up to receive messages from those organizations. Message content is determined by the organization and delivered by Web, e-mail or text message, depending on users’ preference.

The Williamsburg Police Department plans to use the service to relay information about tornado warnings, road conditions, missing child alerts, school cancellations, major accidents and some community events. 

 “We could send out a message that the snow plows were going out, that we need cars moved off the street, or we could send out that the parade starts at 4 p.m.,” assistant police chief Ray Garringer said. “You wouldn’t believe the number of phone calls the police department gets on the Fourth of July asking what time the parade starts.”

While the police department may occasionally use nixle to relay community announcements, the majority of messages will concern public safety and municipal information.

“We’d like to keep it mostly to police and city oriented. We don’t want to be a message board for, say, the wrestling parents’ bake sale. It loses its edge. If you read and see it’s from the police, you know this could be important, so you always look at it,” said Williamsburg Police Chief Marty Koch.

Garringer said the police may also use nixle to ask for the public’s help in finding criminal suspects.

“If we had a description of somebody, we could put it out there right away,” he said.

Garringer noted establishing a large base of nixle users in Williamsburg will ultimately allow a faster flow of public safety information from police to citizens.

“It’s going to give us a direct link to get information out to people. People want information and this makes it easy to get it in a way that a lot of people are used to getting it — over text messages and e-mails,” Garringer said.

To sign up for nixle, residents can go to www.nixle.com. Registration is free and is open to all ages. Information entered in the registration process is not disclosed to the Williamsburg Police Department or third parties.

“We don’t actually get peoples’ phone numbers. It’s a secure system. We don’t know who’s signed up and we don’t know their phone numbers or e-mail addresses,” Garringer explained.

UPDATED January 21, 2010 11:45 AM

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