Carmen Merlo, director of Portland Office of Emergency Management, wants you to give her staff your contact information. Then, if a disaster strikes, they will be able to warn you by text, voicemail or email. Say, a bridge has collapsed in an earthquake, or danger is lurking in your neighborhood -- a downed power line, for example, or a toxic chemical spill -- the city soon will be able to send emergency warnings straight to your cell phone, in the form of texts or voicemails.
"Right now we only have the ability to send an email notification," said Merlo. "But we are working to get a new system up and running and by November, we will have the ability to send texts and voicemails."
When the new system is in place the city will have the ability to call your landline if a disaster strikes and affects your neighborhood. But fewer people today have landlines, and you may not be home when disaster strikes. They also can send twitter and text alerts, but not yet targeted to specific locations.
With the new system, if you sign up with your cell phone number and address, emergency information can reach you wherever you are. And it can be targeted to neighborhoods and even to streets. That would be crucial if the city needed to tell people about an evacuation plan, for example.
You can sign up now at www.publicalerts.org/signup , and your information will automatically migrate into the new system later this year. Portland Office of Emergency Management will send alerts to your email until they launch the new system, when they can begin sending texts or voicemails.
Merlo says the city needs to know your address so it can target crucial information to the right people. The information you need might depend on where you live. Merlo promises the city will send you an alert in a real emergency.
"They won't be sending texts about snow or bad weather," she says. "You won't be getting a lot of texts from us. We intend to use the system only for emergency information."
And she promises that your information will be kept confidential. "We have no intention of in any way distributing people's contact information," she said. "We are not going to sell it, rent it, or otherwise give it out."