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Response to emergency notification system disappoints Cass sheriff

BACKUS – Sheriff Tom Burch informed the Cass County Board Tuesday he has been disappointed by the fact only 490 people have signed up in the last year for emergency notifications from his department under the Nixle program.

Signing up will not overload your inbox, he emphasized, noting the sheriff’s office only sent nine notifications to those enrolled in the last year.

It provides people with an alert when severe weather was coming or when there might be a dangerous criminal in the area or when a Level 3 sex offender will move into a neighborhood. Alerts do not go out county-wide, but rather to areas of the county most likely to be affected, he said.

To sign up for alerts either to a cell phone or an email account any property owner in the county may register by going to or may access that website through the county’s website at Emergency Services Director Kerry Swenson said some neighboring counties have chosen to use a competing service, CodeRED, but Swenson and Burch told the board they believe the Nixle system is still a better option. The CodeRED system does provide notification to landline phones as well as cell phones and email accounts, but its annual cost runs about $19,000, while the Nixle service costs only $1,500, Burch said.

Burch obtained board approval Tuesday to start a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program in the county’s five school districts.

The sheriff will apply for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency grants to cover the cost to train and equip 25 teenagers for basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. While the program was initiated with a disaster response concept, Burch said teens who complete the 40-hour basic medical and search and rescue course also could assist their communities in offering preliminary emergency response services during such community events as county fairs while waiting for professional emergency responders to arrive.

The county board also saw the program as a way to acquaint local youth with future career opportunities in law enforcement, firefighting or emergency medical services.