Comanche County_You may be in bed asleep when the power goes out from an approaching storm. How will you know if you're in danger in Lawton and Comanche County? As of Tuesday, you could just count on a phone call. Comanche County and Lawton city and council officials announced the start of Code Red - an emergency alert system that will call residents and those who sign up when there's trouble. The system can call the entire county about a storm, or pinpoint a particular neighborhood and only call residents there about an incident.
Home phone numbers (landlines) already are entered into the database, but they don't have cell phone numbers, so you will register online to get those calls. Registration is easy, free, and has worked in other cities across the country. "One of them had it in effect for two weeks and had a tornado come through the community," said Comanche County Emergency Director Clint Wagstaff. "They were able to use Code Red, and they do believe it saved lives - and we feel the same way. It will save lives."
Comanche County and Lawton officials signed up for Code Red for a test run a few weeks ago, and received alerts about the fatal storms of February 10 - before they arrived. "My phone rang, and I got a message that there were severe weather warnings to the southwest of Lawton - in the general vicinity," said Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith. "It called me, and it works."
This is the sort of system Lawton could have used when flash floods hit Garden Village in July, 2007. "It was very difficult because in order to get them to evacuate. We had to send police and firefighters to individual houses, knock on doors, wake up people if they were not awake, and have them evacuate," said Lawton Mayor John Purcell. "Instead of us having to send personnel door to door, we can concentrate on those that are actually going to need assistance in getting out, and not having to waste some of our man-hours - basically notifying people - when we've got a much more efficient way of getting that done," said Lawton Fire Department Chief Bart Hadley.
It's a simple phone call that isn't only for weather warnings. The police can use Code Red to warn residents of a potential criminal nearby. For example a standoff on Lawton's East Side last August drew many onlookers, and a Code Red could have sent a message such as: "This is the Chief of Police, we have an armed suspect inside a house. Please stay inside your residence until things have cleared out."
Wichita Falls Police did just that for a neighborhood safety standoff in February. They began using Code Red last August, and in six months used it twice for severe weather, and twice for police purposes.