City opts for fully-featured emergency alerts

By Jason Hawk -

Better emergency alerts at a fraction of the cost? Sign us up.

Oberlin city council agrees, directing fire chief Robert Hanmer on Monday to migrate to the Wireless Emergency Notification System.

Oberlin currently uses a service called Code RED to notify residents of boil alerts, water line breaks, and other hazards. It costs $5,840 per year.

Buying into WENS would cost just $414 per year, since Oberlin would share costs with nearly every other city and township in Lorain County. Only Avon Lake and Sheffield Village remain hold-outs.

Hanmer said both alert systems use voice calls and text messages to reach residents. But WENS also provides warnings as soon as they are issued by the National Weather Service.

“Right now, if a tornado warning or a severe storm warning came in, we would have to have one of the administrators of the city issue the Code RED alert,” he said — and that takes time.

The chief plans to phase out Code RED when Oberlin’s contract with the provider expires Dec. 31, switching over to WENS on Jan. 1.

Residents would be able to sign up for WENS through the county at There, you can choose what notifications you want — blizzards, flash floods, high winds, lake effect snow, tornados, extreme cold, and so on.

When WENS was introduced years ago, only 911 operators and Lorain County Emergency Management Agency personnel were able to send alerts. Oberlin, under fire chief Dennis Kirin, demurred in favor of Code RED, which allowed local officials to send out alerts.

Today, that’s changed. Not only can city officials decide what goes out over the system, but they can choose whether to send messages to a wide audience or to just the residents of a single street.

“This is not a decision we’re making lightly or because we can save approximately $5,000. This is about reinvesting in communication with the community,” said city manager Rob Hillard.

The only catch is that the system is voluntary; residents will have to sign up, even if they already receive Code RED alerts.

City council was receptive to Hanmer’s advice. “Our direction, obviously, is go with the WENS,” said council president Ron Rimbert.

“I’m struggling to find something where this is worse than Code RED, and I’m not finding it,” said councilman Scott Broadwell.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk