Howard County officials are launching a system to send urgent messages directly from police and fire departments, as well as select information about other county services via text messages or email.
The notification service, NotifyMeHoward, will allow county officials to provide emergency notifications from the National Weather Service and public safety officials, but it will also let subscribers customize which county agencies they receive information from. Users can choose to receive information on recreation and parks programs, public works road projects or government news releases — all from the same system, beginning Tuesday.
The NotifyMeHoward program "allows the users to create a user-friendly experience where they are choosing the information they like to receive," said County Executive Ken Ulman.
For example, parents with children in youth sports can check and see when facilities close in foul weather, and they can also get information about events from the parks department.
While the project has been in the works for several years, county officials say the need was more apparent after this year's snowstorms, flooding and earthquake.
"We learned the effectiveness of technology and social media to get information out," Ulman said.
During heavy flooding in September, he said, county officials were "pumping information out" on Twitter, Facebook and the county's website, but it wasn't organized.
The county could make automated calls to land lines, but "when it comes to getting information across," fewer people have land lines, he said.
Ulman said he hopes other counties will adopt similar programs.
"We're looking to getting it up and running in Howard, and after that, the more regional collaboration, with the state, the more effective tool it can be," Ulman said.
The program was paid for by Homeland Security grants.