WINDHAM — At 8:31 a.m. on Feb. 6, Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin of Peaks Island received an AccuWeather emergency alert on his cellphone, advising of a tsunami warning in effect for Portland. As we now know, this message was sent in error.

However, Mr. McLaughlin (“Maine Voices: As far as emergency text messages are concerned, I’m opting out,” Feb. 24) and many others were understandably concerned when they received this message. And Mr. McLaughlin remains concerned that an emergency message could be sent accidentally and that citizens’ confidence in the emergency alert system could be affected.

I serve as the emergency communications 911 director for Cumberland County, and while I understand and share Mr. McLaughlin’s concern, I’m very confident in our local emergency alert system, CodeRED, and I believe it is important that we all continue to have confidence in our emergency alert systems.

Our emergency notification process has advanced from literally knocking on the doors of citizens to using the latest technology to get the emergency messages out much more rapidly. Historically, if a fire chief wanted to evacuate neighbors within a quarter-mile radius of a gas leak, they would assign staff to knock on all the doors. Now, using CodeRED, they can reach and alert many of those neighbors within minutes.

CodeRED is a valuable tool available to our public safety agencies for reaching our citizens rapidly for emergency alerts. It has proven to be effective here in Cumberland County, where it is used to notify citizens about important public safety concerns, including not only gas leaks and evacuation notices, but also missing children, missing adults with mental health issues, and dangerous criminal activity.

CodeRED works by using the state 911 database for all landline telephones and using all cellphones of citizens who opt in to the system. When a public safety officer contacts our 911 center to ask that we send out an emergency CodeRED message, we select a specific geographical area to send the message. The selected area can be the entire county, one town or city, one street or a specific radius surrounding the incident.

Once we receive the request to send out the message, we initiate the steps required to send the message out. The message cannot be sent accidentally by pressing a single button or a single command. We are required to log into CodeRED; type or speak the message verbatim; build the desired target location; and then send the message.

Citizens opting in to CodeRED to receive the message on their cellphones can elect to receive the message via voice, email or text. They can also select more than one delivery method.

At our 911 center, the vast majority of emergency calls come in via cellphones. Most of our citizens now use cellphones, not landlines. Therefore, public safety officials know that the CodeRED emergency alert system operates more effectively as the number of cellphone users opting in to the system increases.

Subsequently, in 2017 we conducted a countywide public service announcement for CodeRED, partnering with the federal, Maine, Cumberland County and Portland emergency management agencies, as well as many local school systems and private businesses.

Correspondence from the Portland Water District played a big part in our decision to initiate the countywide PSA. After earlier discussions with the water district to identify a more effective method of communicating with citizens, the district successfully used CodeRED last February to inform citizens of a water main break on Preble Street near Munjoy Hill. Since then, the water district has further promoted CodeRED by adding a flier to monthly bills and encouraging their customers to opt in via their website.

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak with Mr. McLaughlin about his recent op-ed; a former public safety servant, he understood the value of CodeRED and said that he, too, will add his cellphone to the system.

Mistakes do happen, and the message Mr. McLaughlin received was a significant error. But CodeRED is an important piece of technology available to our citizens, and we are confident that the likelihood of sending a CodeRED message in error is nearly nonexistent. In 2017, 24 CodeRED messages were sent out – an average of less than one message per community. We urge all citizens of Cumberland County to add their cellphone to CodeRED so that they, too, might receive important emergency alerts from their public safety agencies.