Cathy Dobson of the Sarnia Journal
Original Story found here.

Registration with Sarnia’s state-of-the-art phone alert system skyrocketed after it helped locate a missing boy in July.

MY CNN (Community Notification Network) is a computer program that rapidly dials phone numbers to inform residents in emergencies.

About 450 people registered in the two weeks after the alert went to 47,054 phones when the eight-year-old boy went missing on July 19, said system manager Ron Smith.

That alert helped galvanize a community search and the boy was found unharmed at Sarnia Bay Marina.

Most of the numbers dialed by the MY CNN system were inputted from the local white pages, Smith said. To reach people with cell phones or unlisted numbers, registration is required.

Before the July 19 incident about 5,350 people had registered. Now there are 5,800.

“That is phenomenal,” said Smith. “That’s a big bump.”

MY CNN was purchased about 18 months ago by CAER (Community Awareness Emergency Response), which is supported by local industry and pays a California-based company called Ever bridge $25,000 a year for the service.

MY CNN can alert by text, email, landline, cell phone and fax. Standard alerts are for tornados, evacuations, shelter-in-place and boil water orders, but it can be customized for much more.

When you register, numerous alert options can be selected for events ranging from extreme temperature warnings and neighbourhood thefts to Sarnia Transit disruptions and traffic closures.

“People need to check off only what interests them,” cautioned Smith. For example, it can be annoying if you choose traffic closures because it’s possible to get two or three daily before 8:30 a.m.

So far, the system has been used for three major emergencies: last year’s tornado in Grand Bend and boil water advisory in Petrolia, and the missing Sarnia boy last month.

In each case, registration for MY CNN surged immediately afterward. As a result, most registrants are in the Grand Bend/Lambton Shores, Petrolia and Sarnia areas, said Smith.

“We are getting a good number of sign-ups but we don’t even have 5% of the market yet, given that there are 128,000 people in our area,” he said. “Twenty per cent is considered the gold standard.”

Sarnia is the only community in Ontario with MY CNN. Windsor is considering its purchase after a toxic fire last year prompted a widespread evacuation.

Not everyone was a fan of the system when the little boy went missing, admitted Smith.

“There were a few who were upset to get the calls after 10 p.m. and I totally understand that is late for some people,” he said. “But we can’t pick and choose when a child goes missing.”

To register for alerts, visit any municipal website in Sarnia-Lambton or the Sarnia Police Services website (www.sarnniapolice.com) and click on the MY CNN icon.