Emergency Automated Telephone Notification During Fires

Article Written by:
Glenn Nader, University of California Cooperative Extension, Yuba City, CA


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In some areas, residents will receive a recorded call and/or text message from an automated telephone notification system on their cell phone. If authorities have enough time and personnel, fire services, law enforcement, or emergency responders generally attempt to stop at homes to personally alert residents during the evacuation. Media outlets may announce the evacuation, or it may be placed on local government Web sites.

The automated telephone notification system is an off-site calling system that will dial each phone in a designated area and deliver a recorded message about the emergency such as fire, flood or chemical spills. Different companies will provide the service, and their name may be used to describe the service. Some examples are Reverse 911®, Wide Area Rapid Notification (WARN)®, Code RED®, Rapid Reach®, or telephone emergency notification system (TENS)®. If your local government has this system, you will be contacted if they identify your home in the emergency area. If phone lines are busy, the system will attempt to redial those numbers a predetermined number of times to make contact. If an answering machine picks up the call, the emergency message will be left on the machine, and that telephone number will not be called again. In some areas, cell phone numbers can be listed for an address, and they can be called or a text message sent.

It is a good idea to receive notification both at home and on your cell phone. Any process that will result in quicker notification, regardless of where you are, is a good idea. However, not all cities, counties and parishes have the funding to purchase the capability to allow contact through a cell phone automated telephone notification system. In addition, if you limit the emergency call to your cell phone only, people at your home who need to evacuate would not get the call, and they would have to rely on a working cell phone system to get through to them with the information.

Although authorities will do their best to provide timely notification of the need to evacuate, fire can travel very quickly and conditions can change rapidly, so it is important not to depend on a notification to decide to evacuate.