Sonoma County tests emergency phone system in wake of North Bay Fires

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Sonoma County's Emergency Management Division made almost 300,000 automated phone calls Monday night in the wake of the deadly North Bay Fires.

The messages started like this, "This is a message from Sonoma County public safety agencies. There will be a test of the wireless emergency alert and emergency alert system on September 12."

"We're testing our alert warning systems, so we can get word out early if there's any threat to people," said Christopher Godley, who is the Sonoma County Emergency Services Manager. He says last year's North Bay Fires have been a catalyst for communities all over the country to upgrade their emergency alert systems. Monday's SoCo Alert called all landlines in Sonoma County and subscribers to the free service.

"It's not just in case of wildfires, but any natural hazard or threat to the public. So there might be a hazardous materials spill on Highway 101 or a flood along the Russian River or a tsunami threat along the Pacific Coast," explained Godley.

RELATED: Cal Fire releases cause of 12 North Bay fires

"We don't want to do over reach, we want to talk to those who are directly impacted," said Zachary Hamill, who helped run the SoCo Alert test,

He says the system is not meant to actually call hundreds of thousands of people all at once like the test, but rather to target specific areas that are in danger.

For example, if there was a hazmat spill on highways 101 and 12, Hamill could send alerts to the 4,000 homes in the Roseland neighborhood in a matter of minutes.

Gina George lives in Santa Rosa and says she is one of the few people she knows who got an alert the night the North Bay fires broke out. "I got an alert at 3:30 in the morning that Coffey Park and Kaiser were being evacuated." After the fires, she signed up for SoCo Alert and got Monday's call.

RELATED: Sonoma County calls for changes after North Bay fire report

"I was impressed, she exclaimed and added, "we need these alerts, they're very important now."

Godley says of the 290,000 calls that went out, 51 percent reached a live person or answering machine. He says they made multiple attempts to call back if there was no connection and explained that some of their numbers, from the 911 database, could be outdated.

Godley emphasized that it's important for everyone to sign up for any and all alert systems available. On the SoCo Alert website, you can choose to receive an alert on your cell via text message or phone call. Once you sign up, you don't have to be in Sonoma County to receive alerts.

On Wednesday, September 12, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Santa Rosa Police Department and County of Sonoma will activate the Wireless Emergency Alert (EAS) system and Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The Santa Rosa Fire Department says residents can expect an alert on their mobile device. The Santa Rosa Police Department will send WEAs to Roseland. The County of Sonoma will send WEAs to Healdsburg, Guerneville, Glen Ellen/Kenwood, and Penngrove. The alert should display on all compatible mobile devices with a special tone and vibration, and a brief text notification. Local radio and television will also broadcast a test message using the Emergency Alert System.

RELATED: PG&E unveils new wildfire safety operations center

In a real emergency, the Santa Rosa Fire Department and Santa Rosa Police Department will send Wireless Emergency Alerts when there is an immediate threat to life and property. These messages are targeted to compatible mobile devices in specific geographic regions.

While you do not need to sign up, your phone alert will only arrive if you have not disabled the notifications and have a compatible phone.

The Emergency Alert System is only activated for wide-spread emergencies because it can only be targeted to the whole County or Bay Area.

The Emergency Alert Systems test is intended to ensure public safety officials have the methods and systems that will deliver urgent alerts and warnings to the public in times of emergency or disaster. To achieve this goal, the Wireless Emergency Alert test on September 12 will include a link to a survey.

The survey will provide Emergency Managers information on where and when people received the alert.

Find more stories, photos, and video on the North Bay fires.

PHOTOS: Deadly fires burn in Napa, Calistoga areas
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.