Getting Connected: Emergency Alerting and Information Tools for City Residents

Nixle is a free app and communication tool that connects residents with our Police Department alerts, and can be used for everything from evacuations, security threats, severe weather, road closures and more.  Most recently, during the Lime Ridge fire, our Police Department used it to alert residents of the closure of Ygnacio Valley Road.  The City’s Emergency Manager and Police Department have access to send alerts.

If you are using the app on your phone or tablet, signing up is easy – you text your zip code to the number 888777.   If you’re more comfortable signing up via a website, the URL above will give you the same registration options.  People who live in one area and work in another should consider signing up for alerts in both zip codes.  It’s also good for parents of kids out of state, or adults with older parents, to register for their zip codes in order to get alerts for relatives. 

Nextdoor is a free app (viewable also on the web) that allows neighbors to connect with neighbors.  The goal was to be hyper-local, with residents in neighborhoods able to share information of interest to their community.  More than 25,000 Walnut Creek residents are users of Nextdoor.   The City has the opportunity to reach them all, or a subset of the members selected with a map tool or by the names of neighborhoods.  Residents sign up based upon their address, and only their address.  You can’t sign up to view neighborhoods in other cities and towns.

Although Nextdoor launched with the explicit intent of NOT allowing public agencies to have a voice on the platform, it shifted a couple of years ago to allow public safety agencies to post, and more recently, general government.   The Police Department has an account; other City departments share posting rights on the general government account.   Currently, the City Manager’s office and Public Works have staff members who can post.  An important fact to know is that when we post information from the City or Police account, we will only see direct replies or when someone clicks a “thanks” button.  The system is designed to prevent public agency members from viewing or searching conversations between neighbor members.  Often, you as a private user will see more reaction to a post than we would as an agency.

Twitter is an app that allows you to exchange brief messages with others who use the platform, and follow the comments of people you know or whose comments you find interesting.  You choose whose Twitter feeds you will follow, and anyone can follow your own posts unless you establish an approval process.

The City has a Twitter account (@walnutcreekgov) as does the Police Department (@walnutcreekpd.)  Both accounts are used generally to post short messages, often with pictures or video, and can be used in an emergency to convey information in a timely manner.  If the emergency is not specifically being handled by Walnut Creek, but by a partner agency, we will often retweet the information that the other agency posts.  It’s also worthwhile to follow key public safety agencies in our area, including Contra Costa Fire Protection District (@ContraCostaFire) and the County Sheriff’s Office (@CoCoSheriff) and the Sheriff’s PIO (@cocosopio).

Contra Costa County Community Warning System:
The Community Warning System is a countywide tool, managed within the County Sheriff’s Department, that can deliver time-sensitive emergency messages, including notices to shelter-in-place, evacuate, be aware of an earthquake, etc.  Registration is available through the website above, and it can take some time to register.  You’ll have a variety of options for how you want to be notified (email, phone, cell phone, or text) and you’ll have several options for addresses that you want to have registered.  The alerts are geographically based, so the agency requesting that the alert be sent out can decide how far beyond the point of emergency notifications should be made.  Much like with Nixle, you’ll want to add addresses for key locations, such as your home, an office location, your kids’ school if they’re not in the same neighborhood as your home, etc.

If you have a landline, it is already connected to the Community Warning System through the 911 system, whether your phone number is listed or unlisted.  The reverse-911 calls do not require you to register.  You must register and opt-in, however, for text, cell phone, email or VoIP phone alerts. 

PG&E recently changed its policies to be more aggressive in turning off power to homes and business during some extreme fire conditions.  Although very little of Walnut Creek is likely to be in those high-risk areas, you can register for advance alerts in the case that they do plan to turn off your power by visiting their website.  You can also sign up for alerts about outages from other causes as well.   A pop-up box on their homepage currently guides you through the registration process.

PulsePoint is an app that has two important emergency purposes.  First, you can monitor the activity in your region by the Fire Department in real time, as it will show you calls for service, including the location, type of emergency, number of units on the scene, and a map to the location.  You can select the agencies that you want to monitor, including Contra Costa Fire Protection District.  In addition, it has expanded to help citizens get information about where an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is located in the event one is needed.  When a cardiac emergency hits, an AED can help save a life, but only if you know where one is located.  This app gathers the location info and updates it regularly.  Emergency responders, including citizens who are CPR certified or off-duty public safety professionals, can quickly find the closest AED in an emergency.  

Quake Feed:
There are many apps available to alert people about earthquakes, but this one is one of the simplest to use.  You can customize it to give alerts about quakes in our area or areas that interest you.  It also links to a variety of earthquake preparedness information, USGS data feeds and more.

California Office of Emergency Services:
The State’s Office of Emergency Services has a well-designed website with information organized by audience, and you can select what you want to see based upon information for individuals, businesses, schools, or public agencies. 

Cal Fire:
One of the most useful tools in the event of a large-scale fire is the mapping capability that Cal Fire posts online.  You can easily see the updated facts regarding active fires throughout the state by selecting a current fire location on a map.   While the information is updated on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, this is the best resource for comprehensive information.

This is the “mother ship” of emergency preparedness information, developed as a national public service campaign 15 years ago, and is constantly updating and expanding.   The information on the site focuses on the “how to” element in 4 key areas:  stay informed about potential emergencies and how to respond, make a family emergency plan, build an emergency supply kit, and get involved in your community in regards to preparedness.   It offers a steady stream of tips and easy to follow guidelines.