The Willcox Department of Public Safety has signed up with Nixle Interconnect, which Director Jake Weaver describes as “a secure, web-based community information service.”
With it, the Willcox Department of Public Safety is able to send “secure SMS text, e-mail, and web based notifications to participating citizens, in real time to their mobile phones, and e-mail accounts,” he said.
This program is free, does not cost the City or his department to participate in it, Weaver told City Council at its March 19 meeting.
“It is used by over 4,600 various other law enforcement agencies,” he said.
Citizens can register to receive messages from the Willcox Department of Public Safety and other local agencies by sending a text message with the 85643 zip code to 888777.
“The registration process is very simple – take your phone and text message your zip code – 85643 – to 888777 and send,” said Weaver, adding, “You will get a response back from Nixle saying, ‘Congratulations, you are enrolled.’”
“It’s just a couple of steps and can be done in a matter of seconds,” he said. “Once completed, you will receive notification from the police department.”
Once the registration is sent, it takes about 10 seconds, and they are notified by text or via e-mail “should they choose to sign up with e-mail,” he said.
Online registration is available at www.nixle.com.
Weaver explained that the 85643 zip code was chosen because it encompasses the Willcox area, “instead of trying to limit it to the city limits.”
“Anybody that has the zip code 85643, whether they be in Kansas Settlement or the Bonita area – wherever the radius is for that zip code – once they sign up, they will be notified if we send out any alert messages,” he said.
Weaver told the Council that Nixle is contracted with Verisign “for the fastest distribution.”
“Nixle service has run over two years in production with no failures or security compromises,” he said.
“When messages are sent out to the public, it is over a secure database which must be authenticated.”
Though the City was enrolled in the program as of Feb. 6, it was not available for use during the March 1 shooting at Willcox High School.
“Due to technical glitches on the company’s end, we were not able to use it on March 1,” he said.
“It would have been very handy to use to send out information about what happened at the school.”
“The company’s technical support apologized and said it was their fault,” said Weaver, adding, “They went back and corrected the problem.”
Since March 1, six test messages have been sent out, and those on the program have received all of them, he told the council.
Identity certification means that no one can hack into the system or the police department’s to send out bogus messages, Weaver said.
“I have personally spoken to several agencies across the State of Arizona that have been on the program for two years,” he told the council.
“They said it has been very beneficial, and that they have had no problems.”
Weaver explained that there are “message priority levels – alert, community, and advisory – and the host agency, which is our department, can choose if this is an alert – which is a higher priority.”
The department can also target certain groups in the community “for example, there are no fireworks because of the danger, or announce to come on down to whatever festival on Railroad Avenue there is this week, or that it has been postponed if something has happened,” he said.
With the feature “national alert integration,” the department has the ability to tap into different organizations, such as NOAA or NAVTEQ, for weather alerts and other information.
“They can send us the weather alerts, and things of that nature, and we can turn right around and send them to the public, as well,” said Weaver, adding, “It will come across on their phone or home computer.”
Currently, Weaver is the only administrator, with passwords only he knows.
“Later on we will add more administrators with individual passwords, so that they can log into the system via the Internet from the police department, or on a web-based phone at the scene, sending out information to the people signed up for the program,” he said.
One example of a citizen’s notification is an advisory for a “missing at-risk senior with Alzheimer’s, giving the person’s name, physical description, and last known location,” said Weaver, adding. “When the message is sent out, it comes across as a text body.”
“It is valuable, because we have had senior citizens and other people with mental conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or paranoid schizophrenia, who have walked away from care centers or home,” said Weaver, adding, “we are limited -- as everyone is aware – with the communication capability in our community.”
He said that with this program, the Range News can put items on its website, as well as on “Valley Telecom -- who does a great job – and the radio station,” as well as the Tucson media.
The San Francisco-based Nixle “has been around for five years, and there have been no problems with hacking, or other issues with sites going down,” Weaver told the council.
“There are more than 4,600 agencies in the 50 states, and there are major police departments and state agencies, as well as federal, who are using this program,” he said.
“It does not cost the agency or the City to sign up and utilitze it. The only cost incurred by the user depends on the data plan for the individual phone” and the City will not be reimbursing people, he added.
“I think it is a good plan that a lot of other agencies are using,” he told the council. “It allows us to get messages out in a timely manner to the people we serve.”
"Nixle gives departments the tools they need on a daily basis to better serve the public and increase community awareness," Nixle CEO Eric Liu said in a Feb. 28 press release.
"We are proud to provide more than 4,800 agencies nationwide with a cost-effective public notification solution, and our growth is accelerating, with more than 100 agencies signing up in January 2012,” Liu said.
“Whether it's alerting residents about a missing child, crime suspect, or a major traffic accident, Nixle delivers real-time information when it matters the most."
Currently more than 700,000 citizens nationwide have signed up to take advantage of the Nixle service. Year-to-year usage figures for 2011 show that participating agencies created a total of 81,200 messages during the 12-month period from January to December, or 6,766 per month, according to the company’s website.
More than 24.3 million SMS text messages were sent for an average of 2 million each month, and over 44.7 million e-mails were sent, over 3.7 million each month.
More than 4,800 government agencies throughout the United States use Nixle to communicate with residents via SMS mobile text messaging, email, the Web, and mobile applications. Over 700,000 citizens rely upon the system, it states.