Barnwell to use text messaging, e-mailing for citywide alerts

Blue lights and a siren aren't the only way Barnwell Police Department can alert people when it needs to now.

The police department will start using something closer at hand for many people and one that is more discreet - like e-mails and text messages over cell phones.

The police department has joined with a service, Nixle, that will allow the department to send messages and alerts to people via their e-mail addresses and cell phones.

The Barnwell Police Department launched its newest feature April 22.

"You would really want to use it to alert people," said Barnwell Police Chief Todd Gantt.

By contracting with the service, the department can send e-mails and/or text messages to people about a multitude of situations, he said.

The function could be used to alert people in the city about a missing child or person or warn people of potential or existing traffic hazards in the city, Gantt said.

"The possibilities are unlimited. It would be for any legitimate use," he said.

For instance, if a neighborhood had been experiencing a rise in burglaries, the police might text or e-mail residents in that neighborhood or surrounding areas to be extra cautious in locking up or reporting any suspicious activities, he said.

"We aren't going to do anything to create a panic, but we are going to keep them informed," Gantt said.

The best feature of the Nixle service is that it does not cost the city anything to use the function. For cell phone users on a plan where they are charged per text message they access, that charge would apply to the cell phone customer, he said.

Otherwise, the Nixle service is cost-free to Barnwell residents as well, Gantt said.

However, for Barnwell residents to benefit from the service, the police department needs the city's residents to register their e-mail addresses and/or cell phone numbers with Nixle, he said.

Residents can do this online at the Nixle Web site, www.nixle.com.

The commercial version of the same service pays for the public version which the company offers to municipal governments for free, Gantt said.

The Nixle service has gotten the endorsement of several municipal and law enforcement organizations, he said.

Also, Gantt checked the service out himself, he said.

"I called them to see if they were legitimate," he said.

"It's very secure. We had to send in stuff by certified mail and verify who we are," Gantt said.

In the event of an alert, the Barnwell Police Department would generate the alert message and send it to Nixle, who in turn would send it out to the e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers of those city residents who had registered with them, he said.

Alerts would pertain to the city of Barnwell and its residents only, Gantt said.

"The drawback is there is a certain part of the population that is not electronically connected. But we will use other means to alert them," he said.
People with questions can call Gantt at (803) 259-1838 about the service or check online at www.nixle.com, where they can register their cell phone numbers or e-mail addresses too.