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Cell phone users left out of important dengue fever Emergency Reverse Calling System

Posted at 11:37 PM, Sep 13, 2013
and last updated 2014-09-05 10:35:55-04

This story was updated on 9/3/2014 to reflect the calls made to residents was from an Emergency Reverse Calling System.


Original story published September 13, 2013

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. -- Many Rio and Jensen Beach residents received Emergency Reverse Calling System calls on Thursday and Friday with important dengue fever information.

That is, the residents who have a landline phone. For those that only have a cell phone, they missed the message.

Rio resident Debbie Spades was happy to hear the phone ring Friday morning. An automated message designed by the Martin County Health Department told her that officials may be coming to her door to ask for a voluntary blood sample.

“We were aware of the dengue fever, but we didn’t know how widespread it was,” said Spades. She thought the call was a great idea.

But not everyone was given the advanced notice. Rose Bosley got rid of her landline phone years ago.

“We each had a cell phone and we didn’t need the landline, or we thought we didn’t need the landline,” said Bosley.

She never knew not having the landline phone would keep her from receiving important information.

She did not get the Emergency Reverse Calling System call, which concerns her. “If it was something  really important that we needed to know, we don’t know.”

Emergency Reverse Calling System calls can also go out in the case of flooding, wildfires, or any other need for evacuation.

Martin County Emergency Management Director Debra McCaughey says the Emergency Reverse Calling System was built with landline phones in mind.

McCaughey says that right now they can’t reach everyone they want to.

Dispatchers sent calls to more than 6,000 households, but they know there are many people they couldn’t reach.

“We are aggressively at this time looking at the options and planning to upgrade, ” said a dispatcher.

Upgrading the current software would be costly, but allow Martin County residents to voluntarily put their cell phone number on an emergency contact database.

“When we can reach their cell phones as well it’s certainly going to increase the numbers we can get to,” said McCaughey.

Bosley says she’s ready to sign on. “I wouldn’t hesitate to give them a number so I could be reached.”

Another obstacle with the current Emergency Reverse Calling System software is that AT&T is the only provider that directly gives phone numbers to emergency management officials.

McCaughey says AT&T can obtain numbers from other carriers, but there is a chance  households with other carriers may be missed.

The new software would reach out to more carriers.

McCaughey says it’s likely to be purchased and working within the next year.