How the AlertSense Program works

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NEENAH – When a 6-year-old boy disappeared Tuesday afternoon, Neenah police knew they had to act quickly.

“A small child like that, it gets potentially more and more dangerous for them as time passes,” said Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson.

But by the time they were ready to activate the phone alert, the boy’s body was found.

During the search Wilkinson made the call to send out a mass phone alert.

Using the county’s AlertSense program, the technology allows officials to target a certain area, in this case hundreds of homes around Riverside Park.

“I requested it to say that the Neenah police department are searching for a 6-year-old boy in the area of Riverside Park and here is his description,” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson says with no way of knowing exactly what happened to the boy, AlertSense was just one of the many tools officers could use to try to locate him.

Linda Kollmann, Director of Winnebago Co. Emergency Management said, “when we were in the process of that, and verifying the call, the body was recovered.”

Kollmann says once she receives an AlertSense request, there is a 10- to 15-minute process involved before the call is sent out.

“The message has to be crafted, and it has to be approved by the jurisdiction that’s issuing it. In this case, whatever the message was should be approved by the chief who was requesting it and then it’s just putting the call together.” Kollmann said.

A challenge police have found with the AlertSense system is that it only sends calls out to landlines. Cellphone users must sign up on the county’s website to receive alerts. But there’s a new system coming online designed to hit all cell phones in the area.

“If we have a certain area that meets the criteria of IPAWS we can tap in to cell phones in a certain geographical area and any cell phone that bounces off that tower will receive an emergency message,” said Kollmann.

Wilkinson encourages every cellphone user in Winnebago County to sign up for emergency alerts saying, it could help prevent future tragedies, “you may be able to help somebody else, you may be able to put yourself fin a safer position.”

There is no standard emergency alert system. Every county is different. Kollmann recommends checking with your sheriff’s department or emergency management office. And if it uses a similar system, ask how you can register if you wish.

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