Cell phone users urged to join Scarborough alert system

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SCARBOROUGH — With fewer people using landlines, police are trying to update the town’s Code Red Emergency Alert system with cell phone numbers.

The Code Red system has been in place 10 years and is used to quickly notify large numbers of people about an emergency. Lead dispatcher Joe Thornton said the town’s contract with the alert system includes all publicly listed phone numbers.

“With more young people only having cell phones, and not home phones, we’re trying to encourage people to submit their cellular numbers,” Thornton said.

Thornton said the system can now send text messages and email alerts, and there is also a Code Red Mobile Alert app for smart phones. When Scarborough residents sign up with their cell phone number, they can choose if they’d like to be notified via phone call, text, email, or app alert.

Thornton said the updated technology can also text or email photos to cell phones in the case of a missing child. In the past, people would only receive a phone call providing the name of the child, but wouldn’t be able to see what the child looked like. 

The Code Red system is also used in cases of extreme weather, where evacuation may be necessary. Thornton said in the past five years, the system has only had to be used in Scarborough once or twice.

Thornton said there haven’t been any problems, so far, because of people not submitting their cell phone numbers, but that the police want to be prepared. If an alert does need to go out, he said they want to reach as many residents as possible.

“We’re trying to pre-emptively strike by having people give us their cell phone numbers,” Thornton said.

Residents can sign up by visiting the Police or Fire department social media pages, or by going to the Code Red website.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.