Naper Notify nets nod in system test

<p>File Photo</p>

File Photo

For the most part, the recently launched network aimed at keeping Naperville residents in the loop is working well. A lot of people still don’t think much of communicating with machines, though.

A March 4 test of Naper Notify, the city’s new way of blasting out communication quickly through assorted devices, found participants are being reached adequately.

“With any test, you always want to see what the bugs are and what you need to adjust,” said Kate Schultz, communications specialist for the city.

This time, what needs adjusting is the voice on the other end of the line.

“We used the system’s text-to-voice translator system, and we found some people had trouble understanding that,” Schultz said.

Using publicly available contact information from white pages and yellow pages listings in addition to that provided by residents who have already signed up for Naper Notify, the test entailed contacting 43,929 people, some 330 of whom replied. About 130 provided feedback through the city’s public safety answering point, based at the Police Department, and the remainder contacted city offices directly.

Participants confirmed that a good deal of communication can be circulated at once, Schultz said, and that piece of information itself had significant value.

“We appreciated the feedback from people, especially when they called to say they received the message,” she said.

Still, the sense that a robot had called was off-putting for a substantial number of the callers.

“I think a lot of times automated voices can put some people ill at ease,” Schultz said, reporting that the recorded live voice of a staff member will be on the other end of the line going forward.

In a genuine emergency, it would take about 20 minutes to reach everyone in the system.

“Not every phone is going to ring at the exact same time, but it is done in a very defined, orderly and efficient way,” she said.

Launched in November, Naper Notify gives residents choices in the sort of information they receive via cell phone, work phone, home phone, text message, email or other means. They can sign up to receive citywide or location-specific emergency notifications, as well as community information about such subjects as brush and leaf collection, utility outages, public safety topics, neighborhood road or utility work, alerts about special events, traffic details involving major roadways and winter operations.

Those who register can also choose the Naperville locations about which they receive notification, including parents’ neighborhoods, children’s schools, work places or other sites within the city limits. Subscribers to the system must attest that they have read the terms associated with participation, which indemnify the city and acknowledge that Naper Notify isn’t the sole source of critical information in emergency circumstances.

Schultz said this month’s test yielded pleasing results — and the input from residents was a crucial part of the process.

“That’s why it’s so important to test these systems,” she said. “And it’s day-to-day, so that in an actual emergency, we don’t find out something we didn’t want to know.”

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