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A woman from Itasca County, MN, called into the Alex Jones show 4/17/13 to report a robo call voice mail message from Code Red Community Notification directing her to the county’s website to register contact information for her home. Purpose of the request: to enable county officials to more quickly alert residents in the event of bio-hazards, evacuation orders, water boil events, and other emergencies, she said.
Come to find out, residents of many counties are receiving these computer calls lately. The caller balked at the attempt to collect information on citizens. She did not open the county’s Red Code web page, and her husband warned family members not to provide the information.
The caller did look at the county’s website and found the Code Red Program connected to something called the Smart Justice Initiative promoted by the National Association of Counties, she said. She looked up Smart Justice and found it has to do with incarceration. Then the Boston Marathon explosions happened the next day and she found herself trying to connect the dots and make sense of it all.
I did not find any connection between Smart Justice and Code Red on the Itasca County web site, or any other web site. Smart Justice Initiative and Code Red are two completely different programs that have nothing to do with each other. The caller was most likely mistaken about the connection. There is a slight chance the county combined aspects of the two programs somehow in an effort to leverage grant funding.
Smart Justice? That Sounds Good
The Smart Justice Initiative has been embraced by the National Association of Counties to take a stab at dealing with financial burdens that fall on counties due to law enforcement policies that have resulted in the largest locked up population in the civilized world. As a solution, NCO proposes reducing recidivism with focus on health care, housing, employment issues, and other reintegration hurdles faced by inmates and out-mates whose lives are turned upside down from entanglements with the criminal justice system. It has nothing to do with Code Red data collection.
Code Red is Good Old American Entrepreneurship
Next I googled “Code Red Program” and found CodeRed to be a registered trademark of Emergency Communications Network LLC. The company contracts with governments to establish automated systems that call or text people with warnings of impending emergencies and even child abduction cases. You can read the company blog for details.
According to ECN, governments around the US use CodeRed to “record, send and track personalized voice, email, text and social media messages in minutes.” On its government information page, it says “The CodeRED system is operational right now. Calling data, mapping and dialing systems are all in place and ready for immediate use.”
Chances are your basic information is already in the database but the robo calls are an attempt to get more, such as personal cell phone numbers. All additional data collected is validated, geo-coded, and integrated by ECN Network at no extra charge to its clients.
The following three paragraphs are from the Clarendon Hills, Illinois Code Red program. This is a typical example of the public/private partnership between counties and ECN Network.
“CODE RED is an interactive Internet based community emergency mass notification system, which enables a recorded telephone message to be sent out to selected areas, blocks, neighborhoods, or the entire Village using geographical data. These messages can be used to notify residents and businesses of immediate public safety issues such as hazardous materials incidents, evacuation orders, large fires, burglaries, lost or missing persons, boil orders, and many other public safety emergency situations.”
“The CODE RED system is Internet based and has the ability to deliver approximately 60,000 calls per hour based on a 30 second customized message. That means that the Fire or Police Department has the capability of delivering this message to every business and household in the Village in less than 5 minutes.”
“All land line telephones in Village residences and businesses are automatically included in the CODE RED system data base. This system also has the capability of adding other telephone numbers such as work numbers and cellular telephone numbers to the data base.”
CodeRed and FEMA
As can be expected, ECN cultivates private/public relationships with federal emergency management agencies. It has integrated its CodeRed warning system with the public alert warning system. “The primary purpose of IPAWS is to deliver presidential alerts, imminent threat alerts and amber alerts. As IPAWS does not deliver alerts to telephones, emails, send text messages, or provide statistical information on who was contacted, the CodeRED system ensures authorized public officials the ability to send geographically targeted, community alerts across various platforms with real-time statistics on message delivery,” according to a company media release of 10/17/12.
DHS Funds Code Red
Government departments, such as fire, police, and/or emergency management secure grants from the Department of Homeland Security to contract with Code Red LLC for data services. York County is one example. Residents there recently received the robo calls, which caused a flood of calls to the county.
Blain Cote, assistant director of the York County Emergency Management Agency, said his office was inundated with calls from people asking for more information.
“This is absolutely legitimate,” he said. “We’re trying to help the people of York County so they can act appropriately in an emergency,” according to an article on seacoastline.com.
Cote said his agency is using a portion of a federal Homeland Security grant it receives annually to fund the CodeRED program. “The contract with Emergency Communications Network, which operates CodeRED, is for $35,000,” he said.
He assures all the collected data is retained by ECN, remains confidential, and can’t even be accessed by the county. “It will not be sold or given out. Once it’s there, I can’t even look anything up. It’s very, very secure.”
Four counties in Utah recently signed up for three years of CodeRed with $60,000 from Homeland Security.
The Lenawee County website says its CodeRed program is being funded by Homeland Security as well, but it doesn’t specify the grant amount.
More on Emergency Communications Network, Inc. from Businessweek.com:
Emergency Communications Network, Inc. provides high-speed outbound notification solutions in the United States. The company offers CodeRED, a high-speed notification system that enables local government officials to record, send, and track personalized messages to citizens in minutes; CodeRED Weather Warning, a product that automatically sends telephone messages to citizens in the path of severe weather; CheckUp Call, a product that enables caregivers to schedule calls to monitor at-risk individuals through a Web-based interface; and CodeED, a communication tool that enables K-12 educators to connect with parents
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