When a series of massive storms hit River Forest in June, the village acted quickly to prepare. Public works employees were put on watch, police supervisors stayed overtime, and most importantly, residents were alerted.

But to get the word out, the village used a new technique: an automated alert system that sent out robocalls, text messages and e-mails to let people know a massive storm was coming.

It is part of a program called Connect-CTY that the village has been testing over the past year in an effort to keep residents better informed. As it attempts to streamline the way it delivers information to residents and business owners, the village is trying to get as many people as it can to sign up for the service.

“It’ll be beneficial for the residents out there to give them early warning on whatever we get,” said River Forest Fire Chief Jim Eggert, who’s been leading the project. “When we have information that we can get out, they can have it quicker.”

Right now, the village’s database mostly consists of phone numbers – close to 4,000 numbers from AT&T’s master street address guide, a collaborative database between the phone company and the village that links a phone number to an address in case of an emergency.

What the village is hoping, however, is that its residents will enter their own information into its Web site, so it can move from inconsistent robocalls to more useful text message and e-mail warnings to residents.

Eggert promised the village is concerned with tact, and won’t overwhelm its residents.

“What we can’t do is information overload. Pretty soon, people just turn it off – they just don’t want to hear it any more,” Eggert said. “But if we keep it to just the basics and for emergency use, people will stay in tune with it. It’s a fine line.”

In addition to the ability to send out village-wide alerts, the system also gives River Forest officials the ability to specifically target an alert to a single street, block, or area of the village.

The village hasn’t used that service yet, but Eggert hopes it could be useful if a water main breaks, or a street is closed down – events that aren’t of concern to all of River Forest, but could be crucially important to those affected.

In the meantime, the village is simply encouraging residents to enter their information online so when the next storm hits, they can be ready.

“You have to be prepared – you have to be aware of what’s around you,” Eggert said. “We believe this will be a very good program.”

CONTACT: bmeyerson@wjinc.com

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Ben Meyerson

Ben was Wednesday Journal's crime, parks, and River Forest reporter, until he kept bugging us enough to promote him. Now he's managing two of Wednesday Journal's sister papers in the city, Chicago Journal...