Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Roswell, Milton debate paying for emergency texting service.

Messages sent to alert public.
by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers

MILTON, Ga. - Milton's Nixle text messaging service, which sends emergency text messages to residents, may be changing in coming months, as the once-free service will now charge cities for usage.

Nixle is an emergency messaging system that allows a city to send out a mass text message to residents' cellphones informing them of dangers or warnings.

When Nixle was first unveiled, it was promoted to governments as a free service. It included, along with the texts, a coordinated email service and texts able to target a specific area of the city. Residents had to sign up to be included. Now, Nixle is going to start charging cities $15,000 for its services.

The cities of Milton and Roswell both signed up for the service, and both say they are happy with it. Milton has 482 people signed up. Roswell has nearly 2,000.

Roswell Fire Chief Ricky Spencer said he was impressed with the service Nixle has given the city so far.

"It's very effective and very reliable," he said. "I just go online, sign in to a secure server and send out the text message. By the time I push away the keyboard, I'm getting the message on my phone. It's extremely fast."
Roswell uses a premium Nixle service that includes an email component as well as the text. There is also the option of reverse 911, in which the city can call phones – both landlines and cell – with emergency messages.

Spencer said Fulton County uses a similar system, however, it is much more expensive.

Milton Communications Manager Jason Wright praised Nixle.

"We've found Nixle to be very effective, and the residents seem to like it," Wright said. "It was indispensable during the ice and snowstorms of January. When coupled with Facebook and Twitter, which have about 700-odd contacts between them, it's a very powerful tool for getting information to residents."
Wright said Milton will use a basic service, which will remain free for just texts, without many of the bells and whistles of the premium service.

"We have had nothing but positive feedback from the messages we have sent out during severe weather events," said Wright.

Spencer said Roswell was looking into paying the requested $15,000 fee, but any final decision was up to council during their budgeting process.

"Anytime you get something for free, one day you're going to have to pay for it," Spencer said.

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