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City unhappy as emergency notification system flops

Portland emergency management officials said a Thursday morning test of the city's new community notification telephone system flopped, reaching only about 1 percent of the targeted population.

City officials said they were disappointed by the failure and plan to test the system again.

'We expected some room for improvement with this ambitious test,' said Carmen Merlo, director of the city's Bureau of Emergency Management. 'We did not expect this high degree of failure.'

During Thursday's test, at about 11 a.m. the bureau attempted to send a single message via landline phone, cell phone, text and email to about 317,000 Portlanders as quickly as possible. The message only reached about 2,100 people.

The city is contracting with First Call, a Baton Rouge, La., company that has provided emergency notification services since 1997, to send messages by telephone or text during emergencies. The messages are expected to reach a large number of people who could be affected during incidents.

Portland residents can register for the service through the city's website, www.PublicAlerts.org.

First Call President Matthew Teague said the company was working on the problems found in Thursday's test.

'The city of Portland's notification system is a highly customized and powerful portal which has been built from scratch to meet the needs of the city,' Teague said. 'With any new software, load testing under live conditions is necessary to reveal issues that internal or small scale testing will miss.'

Merlo said the city expected First Call to resolve the issues, or 'we'll have to re-evaluate our service contract with them.'