Boulder announced Monday that it has begun a new alert system that will be able to send notices to cellphones within certain areas even if they are not previously registered.
The new messages will light up all enabled cellphones in a specific geographic area with sounds and text, similar to Amber Alerts and National Weather Service emergency notices.
Boulder’s alert and warning capability was previously limited to landlines and to any cellphones that had been registered in advance for a mass notification system called Everbridge.
“It improves our scope and capacity to reach as many people as possible during a significant life threat event,” said Marya Washburn, a spokeswoman for Boulder Fire-Rescue.
While police and fire officials are still asking residents to sign up for Everbridge because it is useful in more targeted alerts, the new system will allow the city to notify people who might be visiting or have not registered to receive alerts.
“A (wireless emergency alerts) system will reach people who are not signed up on Everbridge for whatever reason, or visitors or the unhoused or people who happen to be shopping,” Washburn said. “It just dramatically increases our scope of reaching folks when we need to.”
The length and level of detail in the alerts will depend on what type of cellphone a user has. Some older phone models will receive shorter, potentially truncated messages of 90 characters while newer models can receive up to 360 characters. Emergency alerts will be written with the most urgent information at the beginning of the text to ensure all users get the information they need.
Washburn said the system was activated Monday.
“It’s a difficult system to implement, so it just took us some time,” Washburn said. “This has been in the works.”
The city-county Office of Disaster Management holds the administrative responsibility for the service, which can be activated by individual jurisdictions that are part of sender groups.
In Boulder, the sender group is led by the 911 communications manager with input from public safety spokespeople and other communications staff.
A city policy spells out the use cases and requires specific training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Everbridge. The group will also participate in monthly trainings and practice scenarios.