DPSCS Announces Statewide Community Escape Notification System
During a press conference in Hagerstown, MD on October 28, 2009 DPSCS unveiled a comprehensive community escape notification system that allows people living near correctional facilities operated by DPSCS to receive automatic e-mail, phone, or text message alerts in the event of an escape.
“This is an outstanding and comprehensive way to notify the community,” says DOC Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer. “Given the technological advances we have made in recent years, it’s much better than a siren or whistle notification system, and reaches far more people potentially.”
A demo of the new system at Wednesday’s press conference illustrated the ease of use and speed of notification. Within minutes of recording and activating a test notification, the phones, computers and cell phones were all buzzing with sample details of a mock escapee. Commissioner Stouffer also reiterated that this system could help the Division and Law Enforcement by directing citizens where to call should they have tips about the whereabouts of the escapee.
DPSCS recognizes the need to be a “good neighbor” to those who live near its correctional facilities, and under Secretary Gary Maynard has reached out broadly to do so. Two years ago, the Division of Correction changed its inmate release policy, releasing inmates only in the regions where their approved home plans are effective. Secretary Maynard has also dramatically increased the number of community projects in towns and cities all across Maryland. From Williamsport to Federalsburg, cities and towns are getting projects done thanks to inmate Public Safety Works crews that would otherwise not be accomplished due to budget or manpower issues.
It should be noted that over-the-fence escapes are extremely rare. The Garcia-Ramos escape from MCI-H in early 2009 is the only such event to happen from a DPSCS medium- or maximum-security facility in the past six years. Following that escape, the Division began a thorough search for technology that could better alert the community in such instances. Currently, the Department uses a siren system and other forms of notification in various regions of the state, and those systems also remain in place for now.
ABOUT THE SYSTEM
The system was purchased in March by the Division of Correction (DOC) from Avtex, Inc., a Minnesota-based company that has been developing community notification systems since the 1970s. Known as City Watch Online Notification System, the program is currently used across the country by law enforcement, local governments, and colleges and universities. It allows people to register online to receive emergency alert notifications on their cell phones, via email, or in the form of a text message. The new DPSCS application will allow people anywhere in the five-state region (Del., Md., Pa., WV, and Va.) to sign-up for the alerts. The system cost for DPSCS includes a $7,500 yearly service fee. There are no additional fees to the Department for email and text messaging, but there is a .09 cent per minute charge after 10,000 allotted minutes per year.
The new system will alert people by region, sending a message to those who have signed up. It will be activated by top executive staff in the DOC, and will also cover all non-DOC facilities operated by DPSCS, including Patuxent Institution in Jessup and the pretrial facilities in Baltimore operated by the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.
Each notification will include available information regarding the offender and location of escape, as well as directions to contact local authorities should you come in contact with this person. Everyone will be reminded to follow local media outlets for more information. In the event of an escape, the text messages and email notifications are sent to users in a few seconds. The phone calls take a little longer. The vendor has 300 lines used for processing all their customer’s events. If DPSCS is the only customer sending out an event notification, then the company can send 15,000 calls per hour for calls lasting 30 seconds.
TO SIGN UP
To sign-up for this service, follow this link. Once there, click on the desired notification region. You can click on the individual institution acronyms to learn more about their location, security level and contact information. Once you pick a region, log in providing a user name and password. Complete and submit the registration page fields. If you want to register for multiple regions, please close the browser window and begin again. If at anytime your contact information changes, please log in to update your account.