New Emergency Alert System Launched in Iowa

The state has launched a new emergency alert system to warn residents of tornadoes, chemical spills or other dangers.

The Legislature approved the Alert Iowa System earlier this year. The annual cost of running it is expected to be about $300,000.

On Tuesday, the system was used for the first time at the Iowa Homeland Security Conference, where Gov. Terry Branstad sent out a practice message. A chorus of cellphones chiming was soon heard in the conference room.

About one-third of Iowa’s 99 counties will initially be served by the notification system, The Des Moines Register reported. All counties will later be able to access the program that provides local officials control of how and when to issue emergency and public safety notifications to residents. Counties that already are using other systems can opt to use Alert Iowa at no additional cost.

“This is a powerful tool, and a tool that I will trust will give us a lot of additional value in warning citizens of additional danger,” said Mark Schouten, director of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said there’s no requirement that counties use the new system.

Iowa residents can select which types of alerts they want to receive, such as severe weather and 911 outages. The alerts can be sent to a variety of electronics, including landline telephones, cellphones and fax machines.

“We believe it will be a tremendous asset to the state of Iowa and the counties and cities that use it,” Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said.