Emergency management stresses importance of Hyper-Reach

Published 8:23 pm Friday, July 28, 2017

Monday at 7 p.m., more than 20,000 phones in Beaufort County will ring.

It’s a test — one issued by Beaufort County Emergency Management to see exactly how many people are reached through its Hyper-Reach program.

The county initiated the mass call program several years ago in an effort to broadcast important messages to as many residents as possible. It’s been effective: during Hurricane Matthew last October, the county sent out a steady stream of messages about shelter openings, roads closed because of downed trees and utility wires, curfew times and power outages.

Some people got those messages. Others, however, were left in the dark.

Emergency Management is looking to resolve the lack of communication. Part of the issue is that there are approximately 50,000 people living in Beaufort County, yet only 21,431 phones are registered with Hyper-Reach — 15,319 landlines and 6,112 cellphones. Landlines are automatically registered using the county’s 911 database. Since there is no database of cellphones in the county, the only way to get in the Hyper-Reach system is to register that phone through the website, according to Lisa Respess Williams, emergency services specialist with Beaufort County Emergency Management.

It’s the cellphone users who are missing out on the important messages, as well as the growing number of people who are replacing landlines with cellphones as their primary phones, she said.

“Every year, the number (of landlines) decreases, and over the last two years, I have seen an increase in the decrease,” Williams said. “More and more people are moving away from landlines, and as that occurs, if you haven’t registered that cellphone number, you are not going to get these calls. … Any county-generated message that goes out, if your cellphone is not registered, it’s not going to get it, which is a real problem.”

Williams said it’s of vital importance to register cellphones with the system, because in case of emergency, residents will be glad to have the information delivered directly to them.

“During disaster, it’s a way for us, in less than 15 minutes, to send this message out to 35-40,000 people. And everybody now, especially with cellphones, everyone who has a cellphone in their pocket, they get (the message) right then,” Williams said. “The great thing about this is this is real time. This is information that is going out in real time.”

People don’t have to be residents of Beaufort County to take advantage of Hyper-Reach. Williams said there are plenty registered users who live outside the state but have signed up because they have property or, often, elderly parents in the area and want to stay informed.

“During hurricanes or storms, whatever we’re sending out, they’re getting it,” Williams said.

Multiple phone numbers can be registered at the same time: for example, an elderly parent’s cellphone can be registered, along with his out-of-state children’s numbers, so that all are getting the same messages.

The difficulty is in getting people to go to the website and register.

“It puts an added responsibility on the cellphone user,” she said.

Once registering, a user has the option to receive messages on their cellphones via phone call or text, as well as an additional email notification. Users also have the option to opt in to receive weather updates from the National Weather Service. Another feature is checkbox indicating a resident has special needs, and during mandatory evacuations, emergency management will contact special needs residents to make sure they have a way out.

“People who are immobile, who have special needs, people whose lives would be in jeopardy — that’s why we have this option on the page,” Williams said. “But if you do not drive, you need to make a plan now to evacuate, because we are not necessarily going to be able to come get you.”

Monday’s test is emergency management’s way of finding out exactly how many people Hyper-Reach is reaching successfully. All landlines and registered cellphones will ring at 7 p.m. If the call goes unanswered, the program will try each number up to four times in the following hour, Williams said.

“If your landline does not ring, you need to contact our office, because there’s a problem. If your cellphone does not ring, that means you have not registered it, and if you want to register it you need to go to website,” Williams said.

The Hyper-Reach website and registration form can be found by going to the county’s website, www.co.beaufort.nc.us, scrolling to the bottom of the homepage and clicking on the red Hyper-Reach button on the right.