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Yellowstone County encourages residents to enroll in mass notification alerts

Posted at 10:29 PM, Jul 01, 2024

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County switched from using mass notification platform CodeRed to Everbridge back in January, calling it Yellowstone County Informed. So far, the new platform only has about 10,000 confirmed users, something the county is trying to change after this weekend's fire on Alkali Creek Road.

Billings Heights resident Jacob Cervantez was at work when he found out about the "Bo Fire".

“I actually didn’t know anything about it until we saw the fire ourselves,” Cervantez said Monday.

He kept his eye on the fire as it grew in size Saturday, wondering if he should evacuate his family from their home.

“It would be kind of nice to be given the information in like a PUSH notification or something like, especially since I’ve got kids. I want to keep them safe,” said Cervantez.

Little did he know, there's an app for that.

Billings Heights resident Jacob Cervantez

“The current mass notification system for Yellowstone County is using the Everbridge platform, but we are calling it Yellowstone County Informed,” said Annemarie Overcast, Yellowstone County's Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator.

Yellowstone County Informed replaced CodeRed, the old emergency alert system. The county pays about $30,000 a year to access the service, but the public has to sign up to get the alerts. It's a challenge the county also encountered under the old system.

"People can sign up with a variety of methods. They can get emails, they can get text messages, phone calls. We encourage that they have at least two and that their primary one is not email because that's kind of passive, because if I send an email, but you only check your email once a day, I may not get that information to you in a timely manner," Overcast said.

"If they text YCINFORM, so Y-C-I-N-F-O-R-M, to 888-777, they'll get two text messages. It'll say, 'Hey, you signed up and then here's the link to go to, or you requested the link and then the second one will give you the link.' So it's pretty easy."

Yellowstone County Informed

Overcast said this weekend's fire didn't warrant a notification.

“Had that shifted to one of the subdivisions that we were keeping an eye on, then we would have pushed out a mass notification through IPAWS and Everbridge,” said Overcast.

Some, however, did receive notifications. Joey Lodine is a volunteer firefighter for Shepherd's Fire Department. He was alerted through the I Am Responding app.

“I knew that my family was safe ‘cuz I knew where the fire was at, I knew what was affected by that. If I hadn’t known that, I may have left work and I might have called a ton of people,” said Lodine.

Billings Heights resident Joey Lodine

That app is solely for first responders, but Yellowstone County Informed notifies the general public.

It's something Cervantez and Lodine will use in the future.

“I know some people in the Heights lost power. I don’t think that we did but if somebody loses power and doesn’t know why, it’d be a good reason to have a notification,” Cervantez said.

“I think it’s super important, especially for community, to have an idea of what exactly is going on cuz otherwise we’re left in some form of the dark,” said Lodine.

You can sign up for Yellowstone County Informed here. Click here to see instructions on how to sign up.