© 2021 West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Telling West Virginia's Story
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Huntington Creates App to Alert Area in an Emergency


The recent chemical leak into the Elk River affecting a 9-county water supply has underlined the importance of the ability for officials to get an emergency message out to the public. Huntington is dealing with the issue through a smartphone app.

Heads Up Huntington is a free phone app that

   provides information to its users in the case of an emergency or disaster in the surrounding area. It can also be used to provide information on school closings, major traffic accidents and boil water advisories. Members of the Huntington Police Department saw an opportunity to reach the public in a new way.

Rod Pell is an administrative officer. He says most law-enforcement and first responders usually rely on media to disseminate news.

“With any of those things however there is obviously a time lag and what we were trying to do was kind of decrease that time lag of getting that information out there,” Pell said.

The app can be purchased through the Google Play store on Android Phones or from the Apple Store on iPhones and has already been downloaded nearly 20,000 times. The application is the result of a collaboration among the city of Huntington, Huntington Police, Mountain State Computer and Networking Solutions and the Cabell-Wayne Homeland Security Committee.

Emergency officials can send alerts to the application that are then “pushed” to the phone application on people’s phones. Alerts are set on a scale with one being a low-level informational message and a five being a major disaster that has ramification across the region. Those that download the app can set it to receive only certain types of alerts.

Scott Lemley is the Criminal Intelligence Analyst for the police department, he said emergencies like the derecho in the summer of 2012 spurred the idea.

“One thing that didn’t fail was your smartphone, everyone had 3G or 4G access, people were going out to their cars to charge their phone, to go on the internet to go and figure out where do I go to go and get ice, where do I go to get oxygen, things like that,” Lemley said.

Nearly 100 people from the Cabell-Wayne Homeland Security Committee representing law enforcement, emergency responders, local and state government, school districts, utility companies and the health care industry have been trained on how to enter alerts. And only those at executive levels are allowed to send alerts.

Pell said it’s simple, they just want to use available technology in a way that’s helpful to the region.

“What we try to do with this is embrace the technology that’s available, as well as the continuing development of technology and how it is applicable to where you are when an incident occurs. We want people to have information available to them wherever they were at the time they needed to have it,” Pell said.

Pell and Lemley say in the future they hope to use the GPS technology in smartphones to send alerts based on location. 

WVPB is local news, education, music, and entertainment for West Virginia.
Your donation today will help keep us strong and vital.