Emergency alert system put to the test after Mason County plant leak

MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A leak at a plant Wednesday marked the first time a new emergency alert system was used in Mason County.

Tiffany Fourspring works at a hair and nail salon right across from ICL, a chemical plant where a fire broke out Wednesday.

"We figured it was pretty serious because we saw a big puff of smoke," Fourspring said.

Fourspring also got a text alert.

Mason County 911 communication supervisor Matt Gregg says the phosphorus leak was the first time the county's newly adopted emergency alert system, Code Red, was used in a real life situation.

The system sends texts, emails and automated calls.

Fourspring says she got a text alert that Gallipolis Ferry was under a shelter-in-place about 45 minutes after the fire started, which she says was too late to be useful.

"I think that should've been sent out quite a ways before," she said.

"We had some learning things on our end," Gregg said.

Gregg says any time you implement a new digital system you can expect to have issues.

He says some people thought the automated call was a telemarketer and not the 911 center.

Gregg says despite the complaints of a delivery delay, the alert went out just a few minutes after they learned about the emergency.

He says another complaint was that the message that went out was brief and vague.

"People weren't understanding what it meant," he said.

The entire event turned out to be short lived, and Gregg says this was a good test that will ensure more success next time Code Red is needed.

"We were happy we had the feedback from the residents that we did," he said, "so we know what kind of little quirks are in the system, what we need to fix on our end, and also it showed we need to work on public education."

The Code Red system is already in place in several areas in our region including Meigs County in Ohio and Lawrence County in Kentucky.

To sign up for the free alerts in Mason County you can go to this website: www.masoncountyoes.com