2012-02-16 / Front Page

Council chooses emergency notification system

ENS will alert residents in event of crisis by either cellphone, landline or email
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week awarded a contract to establish an emergency notification system (ENS) for Jamestown residents.

The unanimous votes adopting an ENS and appointing someone to supervise it were the most notable pieces of business completed by the council, whose one-hour meeting was the shortest ever of its term.

The council, which met on Feb. 13, tabled a wide range of other topics for March agendas, including in-law apartments, nuisance dogs, the abolition of the Water Resources Protection Committee, and Jamestown participation in a newly established group, which seeks to hold manufacturers more responsible for the disposal of their product packaging.

The ENS will enable Jamestown to send emergency messages to residents who opt into the program. Messages about weather threats and other imminent emergencies will be distributed to cellphones, landlines or email, depending on the preferences of each resident.

The winning bidder for the town’s ENS solicitation was Everbridge, which offered to install the system for $4,034 in year one – with the bulk of that amount going towards hardware. In response to a recommendation from Police Chief Ed Mello, the council voted to appoint Fred Pease as Jamestown’s deputy director of emergency management.

The town, which had set aside $9,000 to set up an ENS, will pay Everbridge an average of $3,459 in service fees during subsequent years. Of the four respondents to the solicitation, Everbridge was the second least expensive.

In his Feb. 2 memo to the council, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser noted that Mello and Lt. Angela Deneault “had visited South Kingstown to review its experience with the product and software, which was utilized most recently with the forecast for Hurricane Irene.” Mello told the council that they were “very satisfied with the system’s functionality. It’s a very valuable tool for sending emails, text messages and [au- tomated] calls to landlines.”

Councilor Ellen Winsor referenced her previously expressed interest in an ENS from Ushahidi, whose emergency notifications were reportedly highly praised during such disasters as the Haitian earthquake and the 2010 blizzard that hit the Northeast.

Winsor also asked Mello if he was familiar with the Blackboard Connect system adopted by Sudbury, Mass. Mello replied that he was aware of the system, but added that its cost would be substantially higher than the Everbridge system. He also told Winsor that, like the Ushahidi system, Everbridge has a mapping feature for targeting its notifications to specific areas.

An issue tabled for the council’s first meeting in March was raised during public forum by Councilor Bill Murphy, who addressed the council as a former state representative. Murphy, whose presentation was on the agenda, said that he was identifying himself as a former legislator because he was bringing up an issue – the failure of some retired Jamestown firefighters and their widows to receive their benefit checks – ascribed to state legislation with which he has been erroneously associated.

“It wasn’t my legislation,” Murphy said, adding that the town has to clarify its position that retirees or retiree widows do not have to be living in Jamestown to receive their benefits. Murphy also noted that the issue has been brought to Keiser’s attention, but hasn’t been resolved.

“There’s a discrepancy between our policy and our ordinance,” said Town Council President Mike Schnack. “We’ve worked to resolve it before, it didn’t happen, and we need to resolve it.”

The second of the topics Murphy raised during public forum was his long-standing request to allow homeowners to provide in-law apartments for family members (whether or not they’re disabled) while maintaining single-family status for the homes. Murphy said that he “started this [proposal] as a state legislator and it’s been before the council four times and I’d love to see it finished.”

Murphy said he has asked the town solicitor to draft an ordinance amendment providing for in-law apartments. The draft will be on the agenda for the council’s second meeting in March and, if accepted by the council, it will be the subject of a subsequent public hearing. The amendment will not require any changes to the zoning ordinance because it will allow homeowners to retain the singlefamily status of their homes without a variance.

Murphy had also submitted for council consideration a resolution endorsing the recommendation of the Water Resources Protection Committee to end its service and transfer its responsibilities to the Conservation Commission.

The protection committee was established in 1999, when voters at the Financial Town Meeting passed a $100,000 warrant to purchase real estate parcels, development rights and conservation easements for the purpose of protecting the island’s aquifer. Last month, the WRPC – responding to council uncertainty about the future of the committee – voted unanimously to shift its work to a technical committee that would operate under the Conservation Commission umbrella.

Murphy’s resolution was tabled because the commission wanted time to review it – which was happening as the council was holding its meeting. Although the commission’s comments would thus be available for the next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21, two of the councilors (Murphy and Schnack) will be absent, so the water protection discussion was pushed back to the first meeting in March.

A resolution passed by the council was its latest endorsement of state legislation – which has the co-sponsorship of state Rep. Deb Ruggiero – to increase the maximum number of voters served by the same polling place from 1,900 to 4,000 voters, or “allow the Board of Canvassers to increase the number…above 4,000 if the effect to the contrary would create a polling place serving less than 1,000 voters.”

The net result of the law would be to reduce the number of Jamestown polling places from three to two. The resolution was advanced because the General Assembly failed to act on the legislation during last year’s session.

Another topic that will come up in March is the issue of nuisance dogs, which was raised in a resident’s lengthy letter to the council. The resident, Lyn Hostetler, detailed some of her dangerous encounters with unleashed dogs – which, she wrote, “have aggressively approached me while riding my bike and walking (with the dogs’ owners within sight, I might add) at Fort Getty, causing me to quit riding and walking there in the offseason.”

Hostetler also said that she has been bitten by a neighbor’s dog, and that, while renting a property in the Shores, she had been “trapped in my own car in my own driveway by the neighbor’s barking and growling dog.”

In response to such incidents, Hostetler asked that the Town Council look into the town’s ordinance that no leashes are needed before 7 a.m. and after 4 p.m., and the “negative impacts it has for islanders and visitors.”

“In addition,” she wrote, “I would like clarification on the ordinance that states that all dogs must be leashed at town recreational facilities and how that pertains to Fort Getty.”

After the council voted to accept Hostetler’s letter, Schnack said the issue would be on the agenda during one of the March meetings.

Also in March, the council will vote on an environmental group’s request for the town to join the newly established Rhode Island Product Stewardship Council. The stewardship council has been launched by Clean Water Action, which wants manufacturers to take more responsibility for its product packaging, thereby easing recycling costs and helping protect local aquifers. The group is asking Rhode Island communities to appoint representatives to the council. Both Murphy and Winsor expressed an interest in serving. Councilor Bob Bowen hailed the goals of the stewardship council as a “great idea.”

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